NICOLA Sturgeon has denied "punishing" Edinburgh amid anger over her decision not to loosen restrictions. 

The First Minister said she was not "picking on" the capital and stressed: "I love Edinburgh."

It came as a cross-party group of Lothian MSPs urged her to reconsider the decision to keep Edinburgh under level three restrictions despite virus indicators suggesting it could be placed in level two.

In a letter to the First Minister, the Labour, Liberal Democrat, Conservative and Green politicians said: "This will have a profound impact on the wellbeing of local citizens and the health of the city’s economy."

Speaking during the Scottish Government's coronavirus briefing, Ms Sturgeon said she understood how frustrated people in Edinburgh will be.

She said: "This is not about punishing any area."

She added: "After Greater Glasgow and Clyde right now, the part of the country with the highest number of cases on a daily basis at the moment is Lothian, and within that Edinburgh in recent days has seen a bit of an increase in cases."

She said the Scottish Government has to be "careful and cautious". 

Ms Sturgeon later appeared to briefly lose her temper with a reporter who asked her if she was holding Edinburgh to a different standard.

She interrupted his question to ask: "Why do you think I'd be doing that?"

She said: "Why would I be just deciding that I wanted to pick on Edinburgh? I mean, it just doesn't make any sense. 

"I want our capital city to be open and free and businesses trading and people coming to visit it as much as anybody does."

Ms Sturgeon said the data is important but the Scottish Government also has to think about the "real-world effects" of decisions.

She said: "If we think cases across Lothian, including in Edinburgh, might be rising a bit at worst, but at best not really declining, does it make sense to open things up?"

The First Minister added: "I would have loved to stand up yesterday, three weeks before Christmas, and say the capital city is more open again. 

"As a politician, politicians tend to like to do popular things. I would have loved to have done that.

"So I'm just asking people, the fact I didn't do it was not to pick on Edinburgh – I love Edinburgh – it was not to pick on Edinburgh, it's because I think it is essential to take that cautious and safe approach."

Lib Dem MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton, Labour MSP Daniel Johnson, Conservative MSP Miles Briggs and Green MSP Andy Wightman have written to Ms Sturgeon urging her to reconsider. 

They said: "Many of our constituents and local business owners are now understandably concerned that Edinburgh will exist in level three for the remainder of the emergency, despite their extraordinary efforts to observe all the rules and bring infection rates down."