NICOLA Sturgeon has confirmed swathes of west central Scotland are likely to be placed in near-lockdown this week. 

The First Minister said moving to tough level four restrictions for a "limited period" could allow restrictions to be eased over Christmas.

She said ministers and officials are poring over the latest data and a final decision will be made tomorrow. 

Level four would see non-essential outlets such as shops, bars and restaurants forced to close, while gyms and public buildings would also shut. Schools would remain open.

Speaking during her coronavirus briefing, Ms Sturgeon said "We are talking the west of Scotland in particular."

She said councils within the Greater Glasgow and Clyde health board area are causing the "most concern", with the possible exception of Inverclyde.

North and South Lanarkshire could also be targeted, while surrounding councils such as Ayrshire and West Lothian are being looked at too. 

Ms Sturgeon said parts of the west of Scotland have "stable but stubbornly high" prevalence of the virus. 

She said this means there is not enough assurance that hospital and intensive care services will be able to cope over the winter. 

The First Minister added: "Stubbornly high prevalence means that we might have less flexibility to offer some limited and careful easing of restrictions over the Christmas period, which we are very keen to do."

She said moving to level four restrictions for a "limited period" would help to address such concerns. 

Ms Sturgeon said the priority for Christmas is to allow families "some ability to get together". 

She added: "If we do go to level four for any areas tomorrow, then part of it - not the whole reason, but part of the reason - is to try and get prevalence down to the point where we think we can have some limited easing around that."

Elsewhere, she stressed it is not a "one-way street". 

She said: "We'll also be looking to see whether there are any parts of the country that should go down a level, where prevalence of the virus has fallen sufficiently and we're satisfied enough about the sustainability of that."

Asked about those areas that could go down a level, Ms Sturgeon said this would only affect a very small number of council areas, "one or thereabouts". 

She pointed to areas in the east of Scotland, such as East Lothian, but stressed no decisions have been taken. 

Ms Sturgeon said it is the "objective and intention" to keep schools open in areas under level four restrictions, despite concerns raised by union leaders.

And she said mandatory travel restrictions, underpinned by law, are being considered as parts of the country move to level four.