A LEADING public health expert has said she cannot see Scotland's Covid situation "dramatically changing" in the run up to Christmas.

Professor Linda Bauld says she remains hopeful that Scots will be able to enjoy a "quite different" Christmas compared to 2020, but cautioned that if cases of the new Omicron variant do escalate the impact would probably be felt in January.

Prof Bauld, a Scottish Government advisor and chair of public health at Edinburgh University, was speaking today during a guest Q&A slot on the Herald's Brian Taylor podcast.

Asked by one listener whether he would have to spend Christmas apart from his family for a second year in a row due to fears over the new Covid strain, Prof Bauld said the outlook was "very uncertain", but added: "Even if we had a big escalation of Omicron cases, it maybe be that we need to be worried more about January than Christmas - just thinking about the trajectory.

"All organisations including government are of course considering what they have to do in a worst case scenario, but what I would emphasise is we have the vaccines now.

"We don't have any evidence that they won't protect against severe disease and mortality so I'm still really hoping that this Christmas will be quite different to last year.

"But - if things get really tough - governments are going to have very few choices. I can't see the situation dramatically changing in the next couple of weeks - we have to watch this space...that's genuinely where we are scientifically right now."

READ MORE: Latest Omicron case in Scotland not connected to others 

A total of 13 cases of the Omicron variant have been confirmed in Scotland so far, including at least nine which are linked and have been traced back to a single private event held on November 20.

It is unclear whether the three confirmed today (Thursday) - two in NHS Lanarkshire and one in the Greater Glasgow area - are linked to this event or separate.

One case identified in the Greater Glasgow and Clyde region, confirmed on Wednesday, was not linked to that event.

The Omicron variant was first detected in Botswana in November and appears to be driving a rapid surge in Covid infections in South Africa, with signs that it is overtaking Delta as the dominant strain.

There are concerns that its high number of mutations - including 30 on the spike protein used by the virus to infect cells - could make it more resistant to current vaccines and immunity.

HeraldScotland: There are signs from Public Health Scotland data that the recent fall in Covid cases stopped on November 27 with a very small increase in positive cases by November 29There are signs from Public Health Scotland data that the recent fall in Covid cases stopped on November 27 with a very small increase in positive cases by November 29

If protection against infection is reduced, however, scientists remain confident that vaccines would still provide a strong defence against serious illness or death - as has already been seen following the emergence of the Delta strain.

Prof Bauld said: "I think we should be worried about Omicron because it really, genuinely does look more transmissible.

"We don't know about disease severity or immune escape from the vaccines, but we have confidence that even if the vaccines are weakened in terms of transmission and infection that they will still work in terms of saving people's lives basically. Even these current vaccines that we have.

"So I am worried, but I'm not saying that these vaccines are useless - they're still working and will still work, even if not as well, against Omicron."

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Prof Bauld told podcast listeners that it was "absolutely imminent" that boosters will be added to Scotland's vaccine passport apps, allowing people travelling abroad to show that they have had a third jag.

Some countries are now requesting proof of boosters for entry as part of border controls, or for access into leisure and hospitality venues.

However, Prof Bauld said she was not in favour of tougher rules on arrivals into the UK.

The Scottish Government has asked Westminster to consider extending home self-isolation to eight days for travellers arriving from non-red list countries, with people only able to end self-isolation if they test negative for Covid on a PCR test taken on day eight.

Currently, all arrivals have to take a PCR test within two days of entering the UK and remain in isolation until they receive a negative result.

Prof Bauld said this was "proportionate".

She added: "I'm really hopeful that we don't go in that direction [eight-day self-isolation] unless we absolutely have to.

"The main reason for that is that when you see domestic spread of this variant, then thinking about travel as the main source becomes less of an issue.

"It's too early to tell if that would occur - governments aren't ruling it out - but it's not the plan at the moment."