NICOLA Sturgeon has signalled she could introduce a Scotland-wide lockdown as soon as next week to take maximum advantage of Treasury support for jobs. 

The First Minister said her preference would be for Scotland to keep using its five-tier council-by-council coronavirus system which only came into effect today. 

However she was also considering a precautionary lockdown so that Scottish businesses could access the extended furlough scheme before it expires next month.  

She said her “dilemma” was whether to apply the brakes hard now, while the furlough was in place but Scotland was making progress against Covid, or wait and hope to avoid a lockdown, knowing the furlough might have expired if a lockdown did prove necessary.

She said her preference would be for Scotland to have access to the same level of furlough whenever it needed it, not just in November.

She said she was waiting for clarity in the comings days from the Treasury whether that demand, which is backed by Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross, would be met.

If not, she said it might be better for Scotland to start a precautionary lockdown next week, while the cash was available, rather than potentially wait until later in the winter, when it might not be. 

She said that would “not necessarily” mean every part of Scotland moving to the highest level, Tier 4, from a week on Friday.

However she said there was “an argument” for a blanket approach to crack down as hard as possible on the virus.

Another option would be to move borderline Tier 3 areas such as Lanarkshire up to Tier 4 to capitalise on the furlough scheme. 

Boris Johnson announced on Saturday that the furlough scheme would be extended until December 2 in light of an England-wide lockdown later this week, with employees paid 80 per cent of wages up to £2500 a month.

It means a delay to a planned, less generous Job Retention Scheme, which was due to pay 67% of wages.

The 80% furlough scheme is currently open to Scottish firms regardless of their local Covid level, but this is due to end next month.

If England got on top of the virus but Scotland didn’t, a future Scottish lockdown might not have have the same furlough scheme to help businesses survive it.

Ms Sturgeon set out her position at the daily briefing after a morning meeting with Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove and other devolved leaders.

She announced another 951 positive cases of Covid had been confirmed overnight, more than a third in NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, taking the total to 66,012.

She also said there were 1,225 people in hospital with the virus, up 32 on the previous day, with 93 patients in intensive care, up 12.

There were no deaths recorded on Sunday, however most registration offices were shut.

The First Minister said she expected more deaths in the coming days.

Ms Sturgeon said she was looking for “absolute clarity” from the Treasury on whether the extension of the furlough was strictly time-limited, or whether it would apply in Scotland whenever parts of the country were forced to move to the highest level of lockdown. 

She said: “I made clear last week, when I set out the levels that would apply initially, that we might yet have to go further and that we can’t rule out - and shouldn’t rule out - a move to Level 4 for all or parts of the country.

“And while that decision would never be easy, there is no doubt that the availability of a more extensive furlough scheme of the kind that the Prime Minister announced on Saturday would make it slightly less difficult because workers would have more of their wages paid.”

Described her dilemma, Ms Sturgeon added: “The decision we have to weigh up in coming days is this one - should we take the opportunity of more generous financial support to step harder on the brakes now, to try to drive infection rates down faster and more firmly?

“The potential benefit of that would be suppressing Covid further and faster, at a time when financial support is available and possibly - I don’t want to overstate this - but possibly opening up a bit more breathing space over the Christmas period.

“At this stage, the indication is that the more generous funding scheme is only going to be available for the next month during the period of England’s lockdown.”

The Scottish Greens called for "furlough fairness".

MSP Patrick Harvie said: “Public health policy in Scotland must be driven by what is happening in Scotland, not what is happening in the south of England.

“It’s been clear for some time that the UK Government has nothing to offer Scotland but contempt, but the Prime Minister’s actions over the weekend took this contempt to new levels, showing that he couldn’t care less about workers and businesses here.

“It is scandalous that extending the furlough scheme was left until just a few hours before it was due to end. Huge numbers of people have already lost their jobs as a result of the UK Government’s delay. And there is no certainty that furlough will be available should Scotland need to lockdown in future.

“It is completely unacceptable that people in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and the north of England were told that support couldn’t be made available, only for furlough to be extended the moment it became clear that Boris Johnson’s constituency would be affected.

“Workers need clarity now that support will be there for as long as they need it. It’s essential that we hear a commitment from government that furlough will be available for as long as the public health situation demands it, in any part of the UK, and that no worker will be paid below the minimum wage.”

A postcode checker has been launched to help people in Scotland check where their area is in the new five-level system, which came into force at 6am today.

The levels have been graded from 0 to 4, with no local authorities currently in the top or bottom tiers.

Levels 1, 2 and 3 are broadly comparable to the three tiers of restrictions set in England – before their national lockdown later this week – while Level 0 is similar to what was in place across Scotland in August when the virus was suppressed to very low levels.

Home visiting, with some exceptions, is banned across Scotland.

The Central belt, including Edinburgh, Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Stirling and Falkirk, has been joined by Dundee and Ayrshire in Level 3, where hospitality businesses are banned from selling alcohol and must close at 6pm.

Six people from two households can meet in public outdoors, which is the same rule as in Level 2, which applies to Aberdeenshire, Aberdeen, Fife, the Borders, Dumfries and Galloway, Argyll and Bute, Perth and Kinross and Angus.

In these areas indoor hospitality venues must close at 8pm and outdoor areas by 10.30pm.

Elsewhere, Highland, Moray, Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland have entered Level 1.

Hospitality businesses must close by 10.30pm, both inside and outside.