NICOLA Sturgeon has apologised to Scotland's students in the wake of strict new coronavirus rules, insisting: "It's not your fault".

The First Minister defended the latest restrictions but said the thought of students lonely and away from home "upsets me just as it upsets everybody".

However she backed universities taking disciplinary action, including expulsion, against flagrant rule breakers "as a last resort and as a backstop".

All of Scotland's quarter of a million students have been told not to go to bars, restaurants and cafes this weekend, including mature students.

Hundreds are self-isolating after campus outbreaks of the virus.

They have been told they face disciplinary action if they flout strict measures including a ban on parties and restrictions on socialising.

It came as regulations barring Scots from visiting other households and a 10pm curfew on pubs, bars and restaurants also came into force.

Police Scotland's Chief Constable said patrols will be increased to ensure compliance with the hospitality curfew, aimed at reducing the spread of coronavirus.

Iain Livingstone said: "Additional officers will be deployed across Scotland to support colleagues from local authorities and to monitor compliance."

However he admitted there was "a danger" parties would increase after the early closing of bars.

He said: "As of now, there is a legal duty on all of us, subject to legitimate exemptions, not to visit other people's houses.

"And what is absolutely clear is that house parties and house gatherings are not permitted under any circumstances."

During her regular coronavirus briefing, Ms Sturgeon directly addressed students.

She said her nephew has just left home for university.

The First Minister said: "The first thing I want to say is directly to students: I am so sorry, so heart sorry that this time in your life is being made as tough as it is just now.

"I really feel for you, but I feel especially for those of you who are starting university for the first time, and of course living away from home for the first time."

She added: "I want to also be clear, because I know some of you feel as if you're being blamed for the spread of Covid right now, that that's not the case.

"You don't deserve to be facing this. Nobody deserves to be facing this right now. And it's not your fault."

Ms Sturgeon said 558 people had tested positive for coronavirus in Scotland in the previous 24 hours.

This is the highest daily total since the pandemic began.

There has also been a rise in the positivity rates of tests to 9.5%, but no new deaths have been recorded - meaning the total number of fatalities remains at 2,510.

University principals - backed by the Scottish Government - have made it "absolutely clear" to students that there must be no parties and no socialising outside their households.

Breaches "will not be tolerated", they said.

Universities will adopt a "yellow card/red card" approach to rule breaking, with students warned the consequences could include "potential discontinuation of study".

Asked if she supports such a tough stance, Ms Sturgeon said: "Yes I do support universities taking disciplinary action as a last resort, and as a back stop.

"I would not expect universities - and I spoke to principals this morning and I know this is not their intention - to use discipline as a first resort.

"But as with the police, if you have people who are just flagrantly breaching rules then of course discipline and enforcement has to be part of the answer."

Universities Scotland, which published the new rules on Thursday evening, was criticised for an initial lack of clarity over the measures.

It said all students will be required to download the Protect Scotland app on their phones.

However Ms Sturgeon said this was not mandatory, but only "strongly encouraged".

Bruce Adamson, the Children and Young People's Commissioner for Scotland, has raised concerns over the human rights implications of the new restrictions.

The National Union of Students said students are being "unfairly" blamed for spreading the disease, and it condemned the "unjustified step of applying different rules to students over and above the rest of the adult population".

Ms Sturgeon said the Scottish Government is considering whether self-isolating students could be allowed to return to their family homes, adding guidance on this may be issued over the weekend.

But she cautioned: "I'm going to be frank, that's a difficult balancing act, because if you go home after you've been asked to self-isolate that may have implications for your family, who then also may be asked to self-isolate if you test positive."

She said she did not want to "underplay the significance" of asking students not to visit pubs this weekend, but said it is not the only difficult request she has made during the pandemic.

Ms Sturgeon said: "I have asked people for six months now not to visit their vulnerable relatives in care homes.

"I'm having to ask people to do really difficult things all of the time.

"So I am asking all students for a weekend to not go to pubs, and hopefully that will help us stem these outbreaks."

The First Minister said universities are responsible for supporting students' mental health during outbreaks in student accommodation and have a "big, big responsibility" to look out for their welfare.

She said: "I've spoken personally this morning to university principals to stress their responsibilities to you and I know it is something they take seriously, but I also know that it's something that parents will want to be assured of.

"Student services already have special arrangements in place including 24-hour helplines, support for food deliveries and additional mental health counsellors for those who might need that support."

Ms Sturgeon conceded she makes mistakes "every single day" as she tries to guide Scotland through the Covid-19 pandemic.

She said dealing with the virus is "so difficult" that there is a danger "almost anything you do is going to have unintended consequences".

Elsewhere, Mr Livingstone said he would not tolerate any abuse levelled at police officers or staff who try to enforce the new measures.

He said: "It won't be tolerated. I have made a public pledge of my fundamental commitment of that and will continue to take action against those who look to do harm to people who ultimately are doing their job for the public."

Meanwhile, a UK Government scientific adviser said university students may have to remain on campus over Christmas if there are outbreaks of coronavirus.

Sir Mark Walport, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), warned that students could have to stay in their university accommodation when term ends to ensure the infection does not spread to their parents and grandparents, as well as other parts of the country.