GLASGOW is to remain in Level Three for a further week amid fears that the Indian variant is driving a major outbreak in the city.

Nicola Sturgeon suspended plans to allow the city to move into Level Two from Monday, and announced that travel in and out of the Glasgow council area is also banned.

The decision means that bars and restaurants in the area will continue to be prohibited from serving alcohol indoors, and people will not be allowed to meet up in one another’s homes or hug loved ones as planned.

The First Minister said she could not say “with certainty” that the Indian variant of concern, B1.617.2, is behind a surge in cases in parts of the south of Glasgow but said that genomic sequencing was increasingly identifying cases without the “S-gene drop” characteristic of the previously dominant Kent strain.

READ MORE: 'Surge vaccinations' for adults in Covid hotspot postcodes 

She added: “Because of the the demographics of the area, that suggests the Indian variant is at play.”

It came as England’s chief medical officer Professor Christ Whitty confirmed that their experts are now confident that the B1.617.2 sub-strain “is more transmissible” than the Kent variant and responsible for an “exponential growth” in cases in parts of England.

The Herald: Pollokshields in the south and Easterhouse in the east are showing particularly high case ratesPollokshields in the south and Easterhouse in the east are showing particularly high case rates

Glasgow has now overtaken previous hotspot Moray with a Covid case rate of 80 infections per 100,000 people and test positivity of 3.5%, compared to 69 per 100,000 and 1.9% in Moray.

The spike is concentrated in Pollokshields and, to a lesser extent Govanhill, in the south of the city which have large South Asian populations.

In Pollokshields West the case rate was 1008 per 100,000 in the week to May 11.

However, Easterhouse in the east-end of the city is also experiencing high rates of around 500 per 100,000.

As of May 10, there were 35 confirmed cases of the B1.617.2 variant in Scotland, but the true figure is likely to be much higher given the time lag for genomic sequencing.

In the UK as a whole, cases of this sub-strain have more than doubled in the past week from 520 to 1331, and it is now the dominant form of Covid in London and the north-west of England.

READ MORE: Glasgow spike linked to 'new variants and household clusters'

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said it was possible that England’s planned exit from lockdown on June 21 may have to be delayed if infections begin to translate into excess pressure on hospitals, but confirmed that the country would continue with its easing of restrictions as planned on Monday with surge testing and vaccinations targeted to places with high levels of the Indian variant.

Ms Sturgeon said it had been a “difficult decision” to pause Glasgow’s progress out of lockdown, but said it was right to be cautious to avoid having to “reverse” restrictions later.

Residents in the G41 and G42 postcodes are being urged to get tested for the virus regardless of symptoms, and vaccines are being accelerated to all adults in the area amid concerns that lower uptake among some ethnic groups and younger people is helping infections to spread.

A spokesman for NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said: "We are actively pursuing ways to ensure vaccination uptake is as high as possible in the areas with the largest increases of cases. 

"This will include encouraging and supporting people who previously opted not to receive their vaccination to arrange an appointment. 

"We will be contacting these individuals directly and offering them appointments in the coming weeks.

"While the latest evidence suggests vaccines provide a high level of protection against the effects of Covid-19, they don’t yet provide a guarantee that you can’t still get the virus or pass it on to people around you."

READ MORE: Why UK scientists are growing worried about the rapid rise of the Indian variant

Moray will also remain in Level Three for a further week, with travel into and out of the area banned.

Contrary to some reports, the Indian variant has not been detected in Moray and the area is now seeing a decline in cases which Ms Sturgeon said was cause for “cautious optimism”.

Addressing MSPs, the First Minister said the situation in Glasgow would be reviewed at the end of next week.

She said: “We do not yet have a full understanding of the impact of this variant, including on the protection afforded by the vaccines - however I do want to stress that nothing at this stage suggests it is causing more severe illness.

“However, it is thought that this variant could be significantly more transmissible than even the Kent variant that was identified before Christmas - and that alone calls for an appropriate degree of caution.”

The rest of mainland Scotland will move to Level Two on Monday as planned, while most island communities - except Arran and Skye - go into Level One.

Glasgow Chamber of Commerce chief executive Stuart Patrick said the situation is “deeply disappointing”.

“There will be many businesses that have been planning and incurring costs to move to Level Two operations and once again they are caught up in developments outside their control,” he said.

Stephen Montgomery of the Scottish Hospitality Group said it was “shameful”.

He said: “Staff are getting ready for their shifts, or have been working flat out to prepare for opening, and have ordered stock. You can’t just turn this stuff on and off like flicking a light switch.”

Mario Gizzi, owner of the DRG restaurant group said: “Not only have our plans been thrown up in the air but it’s been done last thing on a Friday night.

"At just one of our sites, The Citizen in Glasgow, we’ve spent more than £6000 in staff costs getting ready and roughly the same in fresh produce."