Limits on large outdoor events will be scrapped from Monday amid "cautious optimism" that Covid curbs in place since December have slowed the Omicron wave.

Nicola Sturgeon said booster vaccines and "responsible action" by the public has had a "positive impact" on the virus spread.

The First Minister said restrictions will be lifted in a "phased and careful way" from January 17, beginning with an end to the 500-person cap on the number of people allowed to attend live outdoor events.

READ MORE: As cases fall by 24% - has the Omicron wave peaked in Scotland?

The move will pave the way to the return of football matches and allow for Six Nations rugby at Murrayfield to be played in front of a full stadium.

However, there will be stricter rules on vaccine passports for people attending large events.

 

Ms Sturgeon said: "Our guidance will now stipulate that the organisers of large events of 1000 or more people should check the certification status of at least 50 per cent of attendees, rather than the current 20%, or at least 1,000 people - whichever figure is higher.

"And, second, from Monday the requirement to be ‘fully vaccinated’ for the purposes of Covid certification will include having a booster if the second dose was more than four months ago.

"The NHS Scotland Covid status app for domestic use will be updated from Thursday so that its QR code includes evidence of booster vaccination."

Admission will continue to be permitted for unvaccinated people with a recent negative lateral flow test. 

HeraldScotland: Positive cases, by the date swabs were submitted for testing, have been falling since January 3Positive cases, by the date swabs were submitted for testing, have been falling since January 3

Ms Sturgeon added that she is hopeful the Scottish Government will be able to lift other remaining restrictions - the requirement for table service in licensed premises such as pubs and restaurants; physical distancing in hospitality; and limits of 100 to 200 people at indoor events - from January 24.

However, the First Minister signalled the potential for Covid passports to be extended to venues such as bars, restaurants, and theatres as these protective measures are lifted. 

Until now, certification has only been required in Scotland for entry into large indoor and outdoor events, and to nightclubs and adult entertainment venues.  

Ms Sturgeon said: "As we do lift these other protective measures, it will be necessary to consider again if extending the scope of Covid certification to other venues might be a necessary protection.

"To be clear, we have not yet taken any decisions on this and it will require careful judgment. But I want to be clear to Parliament today that it is something we feel bound to give appropriate consideration to."

Baseline measures - advice to limit socialising and to meet indoors in groups of no more than three households at once, as well as to work-from-home where possible and a requirement to wear face coverings in shops and on public transport - remains.

The public are also urged to test for Covid using lateral flow devices before socialising.

"We are not advising people to cut all social interaction," said Ms Sturgeon. 

"That simply isn’t practical, and has a serious impact on mental health and wellbeing. But trying to limit social interactions remains a sensible step at this stage."

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It comes as the latest data shows that there are 54 people in intensive care with Covid, up from 34 on New Year's Day.

The total number of people in hospital with Covid has climbed to 1,479, up from 897 on January 1.

However, Ms Stugeon said it was "very likely" the current situation "would have been even more challenging" without the measures adopted in recent weeks. 

Government modellers projected that there would be around 50,000 Covid infections a day by early January, on a central estimate, but the true figure now looks to have been around 30,000 per day.

HeraldScotland: Covid hospital admissions are showing early signs of being in declineCovid hospital admissions are showing early signs of being in decline

Cases have fallen over the past week in all age groups except the over-85s, and while the number of people in hospital with the virus continues to increase "there are signs that the rate of increase may be starting to slow down", said Ms Sturgeon.

She added: "The number increased from 594 two weeks ago to 1,147 this time last week– an increase of 553. Since then, it has risen further to 1,479 - an increase of 332. 

"It is important to note that number of people with Covid in intensive care has increased more rapidly in the last week than in previous weeks. However this is likely to reflect the time lag between people becoming hospitalised, and then requiring intensive care."

A recent audit of Covid admissions suggests that 60% of patients in hospital with the virus are there "because of" their infections - down from around 68% previously. 

The remainder are patients treated for something else who happen to test positive, although this still creates problems for hospitalswhich must isolate these individuals from non-Covid patients.

Ms Sturgeon said: "The situation in Scotland just now is undoubtedly serious but perhaps less so than it might have been, and there are also some signs that we may be starting to turn a corner."

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The First Minister said she is hopeful that Scotland is now "on a path from Covid being an epidemic to it becoming endemic", with evidence that Omicron is causing milder disease.

There has been growing speculation about how the UK will transition to "living with" Covid, with ministers in England eager to cut the self-isolation period for positive cases from seven to five days to reduce workforce absence rates and reports - denied by UK Government ministers - that free lateral flow tests could be scrapped. 

The Scottish Government is in the process of drawing up a revised framework, which it aims to publish within the next few weeks, setting out its plan. 

Ms Sturgeon said: "While it seems that the impact of the Omicron variant on individual health is milder than past variants, it is not harmless.

"It still causes serious illness in some and it still takes lives. This virus remains a significant threat to public health.

"So trying to ‘live with the virus’ as we all want to do will involve, for all countries, careful thought and possibly some difficult choices. And it involves consideration of, and empathy for, everyone in our society – including those who are at the highest clinical risk from Covid.

"We know that we cannot continually rely on restrictive measures to manage the virus.

"But equally we cannot be indifferent to the continued risks the virus poses to health and wellbeing.

"So we need to consider what adaptations we can make to manage these risks in a way that is much less disruptive to our lives and much less of a daily presence in our minds."