NICOLA Sturgeon has announced changes to self-isolation and Covid-19 testing rules in Scotland.

The First Minister told MSPs, during a virtual meeting of the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday, that those who test positive for Covid-19 can end their isolation after seven days, instead of the current 10, if they have two negative lateral flow test 24 hours apart and no fever.

The second change applies to close contacts of positive cases. For those who are notified but are fully vaccinated, with both first, second and a booster dose, can avoid isolation if they take a lateral flow test every day.

The First Minister also announced changes to testing protocol, with those who have a positive lateral flow test now not required to take a PCR test to confirm the result, but to isolate immediately instead. 

It comes as Sturgeon told MSPs that this phase of the pandemic is "possibly the most challenging so far", adding that measures that have helped drive down tramission are now "becoming less tolerable and causing more harm". 

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Speaking to parliament, the First Minister said: "We wanted to ensure such changes are made only when in the view of clinical advisors, the benefits of them outweigh their risks.

"I also want to make changes in a coherent, not a piecemeal manner, given the importance of clear public understanding of what is required."

The First Minister said that the following changes will come into effect at midnight on Wednesday.

She added: "The first change to self isolation applies to those who test positive for Covid.

"While the initial advice when someone tests positive will still be to self-isolate for 10 days, there will now be an option to end isolation after 7 days as long as you, firstly, have no fever and, secondly, you record two negative lateral flow tests, one no earlier than day 6 after testing positive and another at least 24 hours later.

"The second change applies to close contacts of positive cases - including household contacts - who are either under the age of 18 years, four months, or who are older than that and fully vaccinated.

"By fully vaccinated, we mean first, second and booster or third doses.

"For close contacts in these categories the requirement to self-isolate will end and be replaced by a requirement to take a lateral flow test every day for seven days.

"Obviously, if one of these tests is positive, self- isolation will then be required."

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Sturgeon added that anyone identified as a close contact, aged over 18, and are not fully vaccinated will still have to isolate for 10 days and take a PCR test. 

She said: "These changes are significant and not completely without risk. However, at this stage of the pandemic they strike an appropriate balance between the continued importance of self-isolation in breaking chains of transmission, and reducing the disruption self isolation causes in the economy and critical services."

Sturgeon added that with infection levels at high levels, testing capacity must be "fully utilised".

She said: "For those with symptoms of Covid, the advice remains to book a PCR test.

"And the advice to everyone is to test regularly with lateral flow devices, especially before meeting up with others.

The National:

The FM made the announcement during a virtual meeting of the parliament

"However, from tomorrow, if your lateral flow test is positive there will no longer be any need to take a PCR test to confirm the result.

"Instead, you must immediately isolate immediately and also report your result online so that Test and Protect can commence the contact tracing process and give you advice as quickly as possible.

"You will also receive an online form that you must fill in to ensure your contacts are notified."

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Asked by Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross the decision to change isolation rules had taken so long, the First Minister said she would make “no apology” for being cautious.

She said: “My clinical advice, until now, has been that it was possible that the risks of this in releasing people from self-isolation too early, and therefore contributing to a greater increase in transmission, outweighed the benefits.

“That balance of judgment has now changed and after careful consideration we are making this judgment today.

“Last week I did not think it was the case that the benefits of changing self-isolation would outweigh the risks. The higher transmission now, the bigger burden of self-isolation on the economy, has changed that judgment.”

Business leaders welcomed the new rules, with Liz Cameron, chief executive of Scottish Chambers of Commerce, saying: “These changes should have a positive impact on businesses’ ability to operate and allow employees to return to work safely, whilst also safeguarding public health.”

Matthew Fell, CBI chief policy director, said: “With infection rates rising, the level of absences through self-isolation is starting to bite across the economy.

“Reducing the number of isolation days from 10 to seven with tests on the final days to ensure safety is a pragmatic choice that can help keep the Scottish economy moving.”

The National:

The FM's announcement was welcomed by business leaders

David Lonsdale, director of the Scottish Retail Consortium, said: “The decision to follow Wales and England and shorten Scotland’s self-isolation period is welcome and should help ease the level of staff absences in retail and its wider supply chain.”

The First Minister also made a plea for Scots to limit indoor gatherings to three households, but said it would not be legal requirement.

She said: "After two long years of this pandemic, asking people to cut all social interaction is not feasible - and it would be damaging to mental health and wellbeing.

"However, limiting contacts insofar as we can, and thinking carefully about the interactions that matter most to us, is important just now."

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Sturgeon also said that the current measures, such as curbs on nightclubs and stricter measures in hospitality, will remain in place until at least next week and be kept under review. 

Describing the Omicron variant of Covid as being “extremely infectious”, the First Minister told how cases have risen 87% in the past week, with people in hospital rising by 80% in the same period to 1,223.

However, the number of people in intensive care is “remaining stable”, with 42 patients as of Tuesday night.