Age Scotland has called Nicola Sturgeon's latest national lockdown announcement a "bitter pill to swallow" for the hundreds of thousands of elderly people living alone across Scotland.

Mainland Scotland is being placed back in lockdown, with schools across the country ordered to stay closed, as part of “devastating” restrictions to try to combat the new, faster spreading strain of Covid-19, Nicola Sturgeon has confirmed.

The First Minister stressed the need to act “quickly and decisively” as she said without new measures being introduced hospitals could run out of capacity to deal with coronavirus patients in three to four weeks.

She announced a legally-enforceable stay-at-home order will apply for all of January in all areas currently under Level 4 restrictions – mainland Scotland and Skye.

People will only be permitted to leave their home for an “essential purpose”, such as essential shopping, caring for someone or if they are part of an extended household.

The charity, that represents older people in Scotland, acknowledged the necessity of the renewed measures similar to March last year, but stressed how difficult it will be for the many now facing prolonged isolation without face-to-face contact with family or friends. 

Age Scotland's Head of Policy and Communications, Adam Stachura, said: “These measures are no doubt necessary to get to grips with the rapid spread of the virus.

READ MORE: Tackling Loneliness: Helpline hears from pensioners in despair as people fear Christmas alone

"However, this return to a national lockdown similar to March of last year will be a bitter pill to swallow, particularly for the hundreds of thousands of older people living alone."

He added: "This is clearly not a decision that has been taken lightly.

“We have seen the toll this virus has already taken on Scotland’s older population and, while the continuation of the vaccine rollout offers some peace of mind, the new faster spreading variant is cause for concern and makes these new measures essential.

And the charity has repeated its calls for communities across Scotland to reach out and support those who may be most severely impacted by the lockdown, likely to suffer from loneliness and other impacts on their mental and physical health.

Mr Stachura added: “At the beginning of the pandemic, we saw an incredible outpouring of support, with people volunteering across the country to help with food delivery, collecting prescriptions – or simply a friendly phone call or doorstep chat. With shielding guidance expected soon, many older people may once again need help getting food and other essentials.

"We hope to see a continuation of this community support and would urge people to look out for older friends, neighbours and relatives they know will be affected by this guidance.

In October, Age Scotland asked the Scottish Government to develop a winter action plan to support older people - which would prove particularly important in the event of another lockdown.

Now, Mr Stachura has said it is "vital" the Scottish Government ensures a full range of support is made available to those who need help with accessing food, medical attention, and prescriptions.

READ MORE: Christmas card kindness has brought festive cheer to care home residents

He added that these were "considerable challenges" for older people during the last stay-at-home lockdown, in March, and they "mustn't have the same difficulty this time around".

He continued: “We want older people to know that we are there for them. Our free Helpline is available to offer advice, information and friendship to anyone who needs it. Please don’t hesitate to give us a call on 0800 12 44 222.

"As we re-enter a state of national lockdown, older people need to know they are not facing this difficult period alone.”