Scotland is to impose a nationwide coronavirus lockdown for the rest of January because of a surge in cases, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced on Monday.
“We have decided to introduce from midnight (0000 GMT Tuesday), for the duration of January, a legal requirement to stay at home, except for essential purposes,” she told the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh.
“This is similar to the lockdown of March last year.”
Sturgeon, the leader of the pro-independence Scottish National Party, said a new faster spreading variant of coronavirus, first identified in the UK in December had been a “massive blow” in the battle against the virus.
She said the evidence was “compelling” that “the new variant already accounts for almost half of all new cases in Scotland”.
“We are now seeing a steeply rising trend of infections and it is no exaggeration to say that I am more concerned about the situation we face now than I have been at any time since March,” she added.
The move by the devolved government will heap fresh pressure on UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson to follow suit, given pressures on health services from the new variant.
The announcement came as Britain began rolling out a new Covid vaccine developed by the drug manufacturer AstraZeneca and Oxford University.
Some 530,000 doses are to be administered at new vaccination sites across the country, adding to those already giving the Pfizer-BioNTech jab since early last month.
As he promised tens of millions would be vaccinated by March, Johnson told Sky News the infection rate would force further tightening of anti-virus restrictions in England.
“If you look at the numbers, there’s no question that we will have to take tougher measures and we will be announcing them in due course,” the prime minister said.
Sturgeon told Scottish MPs at Holyrood the new vaccine rollout was “hugely positive” and it was “essential to speed up vaccination as fast as possible”.
The spread of the virus had to be halted, which was why “even tougher restrictions are necessary”, she added.