NICOLA Sturgeon has urged Scots who feel unwell to stay at home – and to wear a mask if they have to go out.
She said Scots with cold or flu-like symptoms should stay in if they are able to do so.
And she said that if it is necessary to leave home, then anyone with signs of a respiratory infection should wear a face mask.
She said: “Many of the basic protections we stressed during the pandemic are still relevant now – good hand hygiene, good ventilation for example.
“And anyone with symptoms of a respiratory infection – a cold, flu or Covid – should try to stay at home if at all possible and avoid contact with others.
“And if you do need to leave home, wear a face covering which fits well.
“More generally, we continue to advise that those over the age of 12 should wear face coverings when on public transport, or in public indoor spaces.
“That includes hospitals, GP surgeries and other healthcare facilities. By protecting our own health in these ways, we also do help to protect the NHS.”
Ms Sturgeon has also admitted “more does need to be done now” about the NHS crisis after warnings that patients are dying due to failures.
She vowed to clamp down on “unnecessary attendance” at A&Es and “speed up” discharge of patients stuck in hospital, which is fuelling a lack of beds.
But she raised eyebrows by claiming under-fire Health Secretary Humza Yousaf was doing a “very good job”, despite the ongoing meltdown and widespread criticism of ministers’ handling of the response.
It came as Ms Sturgeon, Health Secretary Humza Yousaf and Deputy Chief Medical Officer Graham Ellis held a televised media briefing about the NHS crisis.
She promised an NHS 24 staffing increase “in coming weeks” in a bid to ease pressure on casualty units – but did not give numbers. And she said there would be a new NHS 24 app with an “extended range of self-help” guides.
Ms Sturgeon also said there would be the “booking of additional care homes beds” to reduce numbers of delayed-discharge patients, after medics’ warnings about “exit block” fuelling pressures.
She promised “immediate new funding” for the measure, with more than 1,700 people in hospital despite being well enough to leave.
The First Minister said that “this is without doubt the most challenging winter ever”- though admitted that “the NHS was under pressure before Covid struck us”.
But she added “Covid represented a significant shock to the system” and current pressures including the backlog was “creating pressure that was truly unprecedented”.
Ms Sturgeon said that 1,200 people were with Covid in hospital in Scotland – double the total four weeks ago.
She said not all of these would be in hospital because of Covid but it was having an “impact on hospital capacity” due to infection prevention control measures.
Ms Sturgeon also said more than 1,000 people are in Scotland’s hospitals due to flu, and there were rising numbers of Strep A cases putting pressure on the NHS.
At the weekend, Dr Lailah Peel, deputy chair of doctors’ body BMA Scotland, said it was “absolutely” true that people were dying because of the A&E delays in Scotland.
She said: “We’ve got to remember that although the issues are happening in A&E very acutely, that’s not where the biggest problem lies. The problem is that patients aren’t getting discharged out of hospital in a timely fashion… not to mention the huge rise in waiting lists.”
And Ms Sturgeon defended under-fire health secretary Mr Yousaf after opposition parties repeatedly called for him to quit or sacked.
She said: “Humza is a health secretary doing a very good job in very difficult circumstances.
“I spent almost six years doing the job that Humza is doing now.
“I know that times then were relatively easy compared to what is being experienced right now.
“Being health secretary is quite possibly the toughest job in government and Humza is doing it well.”
Mr Yousaf added: “I’ve been in government for the best part of 10 years in various different roles and this is by far the most challenging at the most challenging time.”
Chair of UNISON Scotland’s health committee, Wilma Brown – who also works as a nurse in the NHS – said: “UNISON has been warning of a crisis in the NHS long before Covid hit.
“Staff like myself, who work in the service, have highlighted the lack of meaningful workforce planning, year after year for the past decade which has led to a critical situation around vacancy levels and this, coupled with a severe lack of investment in social care, meant we all saw this crisis coming.
“UNISON has been saying for months that we are heading for a serious winter crisis. We have had alerts and reports which were indicating the situation we now find ourselves in. When we can’t cope in the summer, it tells you there is absolutely no give in the system.
“NHS staff are being pushed to the absolute limit. The First Minister’s recognition that staff are working hard and delivering truly excellent care has never been in doubt – but it is simply not enough.”
Ms Brown added: “Our patients and staff are not safe in these conditions and they deserve so much better.
“The Scottish government should never put the country in this situation again, we need a meaningful long-term plan to bring the NHS back to full health which means recruiting more staff now, a significant reform to social care and investment in all health and care staff in Scotland.”