NICOLA Sturgeon will today use her keynote SNP conference address to urge people across Scotland to redouble efforts to prevent the spread of Covid-19 after the detection of three cases of the new Omicron variant in England.

In a virtual speech that will cover issues such as Scotland’s NHS, currently on an emergency footing, as well as the economy and the country’s constitutional future, the First Minister will say her government’s first priority must be to steer Scotland safely through the winter months.

Closing the SNP’s four-day conference, she will urge everyone in Scotland to think afresh about the basic steps they can take to protect themselves and their loved ones.

Last week she told Holyrood the country was still in a precarious situation with the virus – though the situation was stabilising.

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She did not extend the use of vaccine passports but instead urged Scots to do lateral flow tests before shopping or socialising, and not to go if their results were positive.

But the emergence of a new Omicron variant – believed to be more transmissable than the Delta variant – now brings greater uncertainty.

Today, Sturgeon is expected to tell her party conference: “In recent weeks, we have had much in Scotland to feel thankful for. Compared to many countries across Europe, Covid cases here have been stable – indeed they have been declining slightly.

“To be frank, that’s a much better position than I had dared hope for a couple of months ago. But there are big and very real challenges ahead over the winter months.

“Cases are rising in countries all around us. We know that colder weather, forcing us indoors, coupled with festive socialising will create increased opportunities for the virus to spread.

“And, most seriously of all, the Omicron variant is causing profound concern here and across the world.”

Urging Scots not to drop their guard in the face of the virus and to be more vigilant, she will underline that the new variant has led the Scottish Government to impose tighter restrictions on international travel.

“That none of this was even contemplated just a few days ago, is a reminder of how fast this virus can move and change,” she will say.

“We must, all of us, therefore, redouble our efforts to stop it in its tracks. The good news is that we know how to do that. We’ve done it before.

“Over these next weeks of winter, we need to pull together and look after each other.

“I promise that the Government will do our job. Steering the country through this winter is my priority – it is my duty. But no government can fight a virus alone – we all need to play our part. That was true before the detection of Omicron, and it is even more so now.”

READ MORE: Scotland adopts new travel rules after Omicron Covid variant found in UK

She is expected to add: “If all of us increase our compliance with the protections already in place, we will help slow transmission. So I am asking everyone to please, take the time now to think afresh about the basic steps you can take to keep yourself, your loved ones and the country safe.”

The First Minister will go on to say: “If we all do this, we will slow the spread. And we will maximise our chances not just of a more normal Christmas, but a safer Christmas too and, let’s all hope, a much brighter new year.”

Scotland will adopt new border restrictions introduced by the UK after two Omicron cases were detected in England, believed to have been contracted in southern Africa. A third English case has since been confirmed. No cases of the new variant have been confirmed in Scotland.

Scientists are concerned about the B.1.1.529 variant as it has around 30 different mutations – double the number present in the Delta variant.