The top level of Covid-19 restrictions in Scotland may need to be strengthened further to contain the new strain of the virus, Nicola Sturgeon has warned.
The whole Scottish mainland is to move into level four from Boxing Day due to concerns about the new Covid variant.
The first minister said this was “essential” to protect the NHS and contain the faster-spreading virus.
And she said consideration must be given to whether the current level four rules were sufficient to do the job.
The government is to narrow the definition of “essential retail” – forcing homeware shops and garden centres to close – while guidance urging people to stay at home as much as possible may be put down in law.
Ms Sturgeon told MSPs that the current rate of new cases in Scotland was currently “significantly lower” than in other parts of the UK, but said the new variant of Covid-19 necessitated “real action” and “significant countermeasures”.
The move to level four will see blanket travel restrictions in place between every council area in Scotland, with people barred from leaving their local area other than for essential reasons.
Hospitality venues will have to close, as will “non-essential” shops – with this definition being expanded to include even more premises.
Schools are to remain closed until 11 January, and most pupils will learn from home until at least 18 January.
The government is also examining whether the current level four measures will be enough to contain the new strain of the virus, which studies suggest can spread up to 70% faster than previous variants.
Ms Sturgeon said a decision on whether this was necessary would be taken as more evidence about the new variant became available.
She said: “The current level four measures are not as stringent as the March lockdown, and up to now that has been a good thing.
“However it seems we may be facing a virus now that spreads much faster than in March, so we must consider whether the current level four restrictions are sufficient in the weeks ahead.”
The first minister said failing to take strong action quickly would see “another period of exponential growth” of the virus in the new year.
She said: “This is preventative action, because we see a train coming rapidly down the track at us and we’re trying to get out of its way.