SCOTS may have to carry on wearing masks in public spaces for many years to come, Nicola Sturgeon has said.
The First Minister suggested face coverings will be the price for lifting other restrictions and living with Covid.
Her stance in in stark contrast with that of Boris Johnson, who wants to start lifting curbs in England by the end of this month.
The SNP leader has introduced much harsher measures on Scots in the battle against Omicron.
They include social distancing at pubs and restaurants, closing nightclubs, and crowd limits of 500 at football games.
She claims the move has helped stop the virus, even though Scotland’s infection rates are higher than England’s.
And the First Minister is under growing pressure to ease restrictions and bring her approach into line with the PM’s.
Hospitality bosses have told her to end her “gamble” on tougher curbs which are hammering businesses.
They say the measures, brought in on Boxing Day, haven’t made “any meaningful difference” to Omicron’s spread.
Many young Scots simply travelled to England to celebrate New Year’s Eve in pubs and clubs instead.
Ms Sturgeon is expected to lift restrictions on outdoor events like sports games when she updates Holyrood this afternoon.
But she is set to keep punishing measures in place for indoor venues like bars and restaurants.
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And ahead of the announcement she suggested masks :might be required in the longer-term to enable us to live with” Covid.
She told STV: “Sometimes when you hear people talk about learning to live with Covid, what seems to be suggested is that one morning we’ll wake up and not have to worry about it any more, and not have to do anything to try to contain and control it.
“That’s not what I mean when I say learning to live with it. Instead, we will have to ask ourselves what adaptations to pre-pandemic life.
“Face coverings, for example, might be required in the longer-term to enable us to live with it with far fewer protective measures.”
Restrictions ‘damaging’ firms
Her remarks came as Scottish business leaders warned Covid restrictions are doing “enormous damage” to some sectors.
Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce found two thirds of bosses believe Scotland’s measures are no longer proportionate.
And more than two in five firms there are warning they have to cut staff if the curbs stay in place.
AGCC policy director Ryan Crighton said: “The First Minister must announce the end of these damaging restrictions this week.
“Not doing so places the very survival of many businesses at risk and jobs on the line.”
Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross has also urged Ms Sturgeon to provide “some light at the end of the tunnel” by publishing a timetable out of lockdown.
Boris Johnson hopes to start lifting Plan B restrictions in England when they’re reviewed on January 26.
Health minister Ed Argar said today: “We have seen in recent days those cases, particularly in London, starting to plateau and come down and hospitalisations starting to slow.
“It’s absolutely vital that as soon as it’s safe to do so, as soon as we’re able to do so we ease those restrictions.
“For example working from home or otherwise, and try to get our society back to normal as we learn to live with this virus.”