SCOTS who flout social distancing rules now face being fined by the police.

Nicola Sturgeon said new enforcement powers will allow officers to direct people to return home, dish out fines and even prosecute those who disregard orders.

The First Minister said she hoped the measures never had to be used, but stressed the restrictions are about saving lives.

It came as she said there are now 894 confirmed coronavirus cases in Scotland, an increase of 175 since Wednesday. A further three people have died, bringing the total number of deaths to 25.

Ms Sturgeon said new legislation means the Scottish Government "now has the power to make regulations to enforce the social distancing measures".

She said: "We're now preparing regulations to give police in Scotland enforcement powers.

"Colleagues in the UK Government are working to do the same, and we expect these regulations to be in force as soon as possible, perhaps as early as today.

"The regulations give us powers to enforce rules which most people are now following anyway, and I want to thank people across the country for their compliance with the advice.

"These enforcement powers, I hope, do not have to be used, but they are there to make sure that we can ensure the right things are done to help us delay the spread of the virus."

The First Minister said the new powers can require the closure of businesses and premises.

They can also be used to enforce rules stipulating there should be no public gatherings of more than two people, except for those from the same household "or in other limited circumstances such as responding to an emergency or work-related purposes that are genuinely essential". 

Ms Sturgeon added: "They will also enforce the restrictions on people staying at home.

"It will now be the rule that you should only be outside for a reasonable purpose – buying food or essential household or medical supplies, travelling to or carrying out essential work, exercising once a day or providing care or assistance to others.

"Those found not to be acting in line with the regulations can be directed to return home or made to return home.

"They can also be subject to prohibition notices.

"If people don't follow prohibition notices or instructions to return home, they could be liable to an on-the-spot fine and ultimately, if necessary, prosecuted."

The level of fine people will face for breaking social distancing rules is not yet clear.

Ms Sturgeon said police would continue to take a "soft approach to enforcement" but will have the power to act if necessary.

The new powers will have safeguards, she said, and must be reviewed every 21 days.

They will be removed completely "as soon as it is safe to do so".

The First Minister added: "The legislation itself will last for a maximum of six months.

"These regulations would have been unimaginable just a few weeks ago, but the measures are essential in order to tackle this virus and the impact it will have on all of us."

Police Scotland's chief constable said the vast majority of people are obeying coronavirus guidance to stay at home.

Iain Livingstone said he hoped the new powers to arrest and fine people flouting the rules will be used "very, very infrequently, if at all".

He said officers have seen "overwhelming levels of compliance" from the public since lockdown measures were introduced.

Mr Livingstone said most people were heeding the advice, despite a few cases of "extreme" behaviour, such as a woman accused of deliberately coughing at police officers.

Asked whether people are defying the guidance during an interview on BBC Radio Four, Mr Livingstone said: "No they're not.

"In the first couple of days since the announcement on Monday night, we have seen overwhelming levels of compliance.

"We have seen citizens of Scotland, indeed right across the UK, standing up, listening to that advice."

When people are found to be flouting the rules, Mr Livingstone said officers have been speaking to them "to make it very, very clear what the expectations are and why they need to comply with those requirements".

He added: "If they refuse, as I understand some of the legislation that's going to be implemented we would have power to instruct them to return home and to use reasonable force if required.

"If there is continued defiance, the absolute back-stop of a power of arrest.

"I would expect that to be used very, very infrequently, if at all, but I do think it is important that people know that that power is there."

Commenting on reports of a woman arrested for allegedly coughing on police, Mr Livingstone said: "Unfortunately people will manifest behaviours that are extreme.

"We do recognise that this is a really challenging time for everybody across the country.

"People are having to readjust their daily habits, their work habits, their personal routines and, in some ways, we have to be reasonable in that regard.

"Everything that we do, will be done in a fair, reasonable and proportionate manner."

He added: "The police service in the United Kingdom is absolutely founded in public service and integrated in our communities in a very, very strong and legitimate way."