Scots have been warned to prepare for a ‘digital Christmas’ after one of Nicola Sturgeon’s top advisers dismissed hopes of a normal festive season as ‘fiction’.
Jason Leitch, the Scottish Government's National Clinical Director, said he expected some form of coronavirus restrictions to still be in force in December, meaning traditional large family gatherings are likely to be banned.
The First Minister is due to publish details of a five-tier system for local lockdowns on Friday, which will include a “severe” upper level over and above Boris Johnson “very high” alert, under which restrictions would resemble the full lockdown the UK went into in March.
Professor Leitch initially told the BBC on Thursday morning that it was “too early to say” exactly what rules would be in place over Christmas, saying he was currently "worried" about Halloween and Guy Fawkes night.
However, he added: “I’m hopeful costs now may get us a more family Christmas, but Christmas is not going to be normal. There’s absolutely no question about that. We’re not going to be in large family groupings with multiple families coming round - that is fiction for this year.
“But I’m hopeful, that if we can get the numbers down to a certain level, we may be able to get some form of normality. But people should get their digital Christmas ready.”
Although a dental surgeon by trade, Professor Leitch has become an influential figure in Scotland’s response to the pandemic, regularly appearing alongside Ms Sturgeon at her daily briefings and fronting public health television announcements north of the border.
He has previously caused controversy after describing tests used to detect Covid-19 as “a bit rubbish” and for saying he would have gone to a large Stereophonics concert days before mass gatherings were banned.
However, despite a growing reputation for gaffes, he is popular with sections of the public and is seen as a good communicator by senior figures in the SNP administration. He regularly appears on TV and radio interviews in Scotland to explain coronavirus rules to the public, and has had a far higher profile than any of Ms Sturgeon's ministers.
While there has been speculation that Boris Johnson is considering lifting his “rule of six” for 24 hours on Christmas day, in Scotland, visiting someone else’s home has been banned since September, with very limited exceptions.
The Scottish Government has said it is a “priority” to allow students to go home for Christmas, but has yet to give an absolute commitment that this will happen. When asked about Christmas previously, Ms Sturgeon has pointed out that members of non-Christian faiths, such as Muslims and Jews, have already experienced major disruption to their religious holidays as a result of the pandemic.
Responding to Professor Leitch’s latest comments, Willie Rennie, the leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, said Scots would be dismayed at the cancellation of a normal Christmas.
He said: “People have made huge sacrifices for months on end, they will be devastated to hear that Christmas as they know it is cancelled this year.
“Many will rightly question whether the government have used the past six months as well as they could have to expand testing, shore up our NHS and prepare for a second wave."
Mr Rennie added: “If the government expects months more of sacrifices it needs to be honest with the public - Nicola Sturgeon must release the data and projections underpinning these proposals and allow the public to debate them openly.”