FIRST Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said that the Omicron variant poses a “renewed and very severe challenge” and could spark a "tsunami of infections" across the country. 

Sturgeon made the comments during an emergency Covid-19 briefing on Friday afternoon in St Andrew's House in Edinburgh.

She added that there are now 110 confirmed Omicron cases in Scotland, compared to 10 days ago when there were only nine confirmed positive cases. 

It comes as the First Minister said that household contacts of positive Covid cases will have to self-isolate regardless of a negative test.

The First Minister said that due to the "greater and faster transmissibility" of the variant, we could potentially see a "tsunami of infections" in the coming weeks. 

READ MORE: Omicron Scotland: Where are cases and what could change?

She said: “The fact is, we do face a renewed and very severe challenge in the face of the new Omicron variant.

“To be blunt, because of the much greater and faster transmissibility of this new variant, we may be facing – indeed we may be starting to experience – a potential tsunami of infections.”

She added that the number of cases are "doubling on a rapid basis" and Omicron will quickly overtake Delta as the dominant strain in Scotland.

Sturgeon added that this could be within days, rather than weeks. 

She said: “Omicron right now is rising exponentially, indeed what we are seeing in the data just now is perhaps the fastest exponential growth that we have seen in this pandemic so far.”

The National:

Scots have been urged to get vaccinated and get boosters to tackle the Omicron variant

She added: “If that continues, and we have no reason, at this stage, to believe that it won’t, Omicron is going to very quickly overtake Delta as the dominant strain in Scotland.

“Indeed, I think we can now say with some confidence that we expect it to overtake Delta within days, not weeks – we estimate this could be as early as the very beginning of next week.”

If the Omicron variant is less severe than other strains, a “massive number of cases” may still need hospital care, Sturgeon added.

She said: “Given the volume of people who could be infected by Omicron because of its greater transmissibility, even if most of those cases are mild, the number of cases of serious illness will put massive strain on the ability of the NHS to cope.”

A “significant strain” will also be put on the economy given the number of people who would be required to self isolate as a result of the transmissibility of the new variant, the First Minister added.

Isolation rules for household contacts of positive Covid cases have also changed in the wake of rising cases.

Sturgeon said: "From tomorrow, our advice will be that all household contacts of any confirmed Covid case should isolate for 10 days, regardless of their vaccination status and even if they initially get a negative PCR test.

“I know this is not easy and we will obviously keep it under review, we will also ensure careful exemptions for critical services but we believe this to be essential at this moment to help slow transmission.”

Rules for close contacts not living in the same household as the positive case remain unchanged.

It comes after Public Health Scotland issued a call for Christmas parties to be postponed on Thursday.

The agency said festive parties are being linked to outbreaks of the new coronavirus strand, which could be more transmissible than previous variants.

READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon briefing: 'Defer Christmas parties' due to Omicron rise

Confirmed Omicron cases in Scotland are identified using whole genome sequencing.
However, a less accurate method is being used to identify potential Omicron cases.

This involves what is called the "S gene dropout".

Public Health Scotland has been looking at all positive PCR samples identified since November 1 to look for this dropout.

While the dropout used to be an indicator of the Alpha variant, that strain of the virus has all but disappeared from Scotland.

Now, the vast majority, more than 99%, of the cases are of the Delta variant, which is not indicated by the same S gene dropout.

The National:

Sturgeon warned that the spread of Omicron could cause a "tsunami" of cases

As such, if this S gene dropout is appearing recently then the case is identified as a potential Omicron case.

Scotland recorded 19 coronavirus-linked deaths and 5018 cases in the past 24 hours.

Sturgeon told the coronavirus briefing in Edinburgh the Covid-19 death toll in Scotland under the daily measure – of people who first tested positive for the virus within the previous 28 days – now stands at 9707.

The daily test positivity rate was 9.3%, up from 8.0% the previous day.

There were 573 people in hospital on Thursday with recently confirmed Covid-19, down five on the day before, with 40 in intensive care, up one.