SUMMER holidays overseas are "highly unlikely" this year, Nicola Sturgeon has said. 

The First Minister also warned Scots against booking 'staycation' trips for Easter, which falls on April 4 this year, as she said the exit from lockdown must be "driven much more by data than by dates". 

It comes after scientists at Edinburgh University identified a new UK Covid variant with similar mutations found in the South African variant. 

Addressing the Scottish Parliament, Ms Sturgeon said the existing UK variant - believed to have originated in Kent, and which is much more contagious than the original Wuhan strain - now accounts for more than 80 per cent of new Covid cases in Scotland

READ MORE: Quarantine plan will leave Scotland exposed 

She said there were now "some signs that cases might be falling more slowly now than they were a few weeks ago", which could be partly explained by the high prevalence of the more transmissible Kent variant. 

Ms Sturgeon said that the risk from this strain means that exit from lockdown "is likely to be even more cautious than it was last summer", with restrictions on international travel in particular unlikely to be eased quickly.

HeraldScotland: Hospital admissions have returned to levels last seen in early December, of around 80 admissions per day Hospital admissions have returned to levels last seen in early December, of around 80 admissions per day

Ms Sturgeon said: "We are likely to advise against booking Easter holidays, either overseas or within Scotland, as it is highly unlikely that we will have been able to fully open hotels or self catering accommodation by then.

"However, for the summer, while it is still highly unlikely that overseas holidays will be possible or advisable, staycations might be - but this will depend on the data nearer the time." 

It comes amid an ongoing row over hotel quarantine arrangements diverging between Scotland and the rest of the UK. 

While Scotland is demanding supervised quarantine for all international arrivals coming directly into Scotland, the UK Government has limited the requirement to 33 red list countries considered to be at high risk of Covid variants. 

There is currently nothing to stop people flying into London from non-red list countries, and catching connecting flights to Scotland - thereby circumventing Scotland's tougher hotel quarantine rule.

HeraldScotland:

However they would still be expected to present evidence of a negative Covid test no more than 72 hours old, and to self-isolate at home for 10 days on arrival in Scotland.

Some passengers arriving at London Heathrow yesterday, however, have described how travellers from the red list countries were able to mix freely in queues and baggage areas with travellers from non-red list countries. 

Meanwhile, scientists from Edinburgh University have identified 33 new cases of another new variant of coronavirus in the UK in samples dating back to December.

The new B.1.525 variant shares similarities with the South African and Brazilian variants that may mean it is able to partially escape the body's immune response in people who have been vaccinated or previously infected.

READ MORE: Just 8% of flights into Scotland qualify for hotel quarantine

Other mutations are similar to the Kent variant, which is not only more transmissible but potentially more deadly according to some preliminary studies. 

In a worst case scenario the virus could be adapting in ways that mean it can spread more easily and become resistant to vaccines, although data is at a very early stage and experts are still deciding whether it needs to be categorised as a "variant of concern".

Meanwhile, antibody data for Scotland published today also suggests that more than 11% of over-80s now have some immune protection against the virus. 

HeraldScotland:

The latest findings, based on blood samples gathered in the community, indicates that 11.6% of over-80s in Scotland in the 28 days to February 1 would be positive for Covid antibodies - indicating either vaccination or prior exposure from natural infections. 

Antibody rates remained highest among the 16-24 age group who are most likely to have acquired the infection naturally, as a result of more social mixing.