Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has announced today (Tuesday) that outdoor events in the country will be limited to 500 people for three weeks from December 26 as part of plans to limit the spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19.

The restrictions will impact matches in the top four divisions of Scottish football, as well as Edinburgh Rugby and the Glasgow Warriors, which play in the United Rugby Championship. Horse racing meets will also be impacted by the new guidelines.

Social distancing of one metre will be required at outdoor sporting events. For indoor standing events, the capacity limit has been set at 100, while for indoor seated events the limit will be 200.

In a statement today, Sturgeon said that the new restrictions will make sports matches “effectively spectator-free” for three weeks. The new guidelines will also apply to Scotland’s large-scale Hogmanay celebrations.

“I know how disappointing this will be for those looking forward to these events, and for the organisers of them,” Sturgeon said.

“But I want to underline why we think this difficult decision is necessary. Firstly, we know that the much higher transmissibility of Omicron means large gatherings have the potential to become very rapid super-spreader events, putting large numbers at risk of getting infected very quickly. Limiting these events helps reduce the risk of widespread transmission.

“It also cuts down the transmission risks associated with travel to and from such events. And second, and this is not an insignificant point, these large events put an additional burden on emergency services, especially the police and ambulance services.

“At a time when these services are already under severe pressure and also dealing with high staff absences, limiting large-scale events will help them focus on delivering essential services to the public. So I would ask the public – despite the disappointment I know this decision will generate – to please understand the reasons for it.”

The new restrictions will result in significantly lower crowds for some high-profile football matches over the next three weeks. Celtic and Rangers are due to meet in the Old Firm derby on January 2 – the same day that Dundee will host Dundee United. Hibernian will also host Hearts in the Edinburgh derby on January 3 before the top-tier Premiership has a two-week winter break.

The new restrictions in Scotland have been announced after the Welsh government confirmed last night that all sporting events in the country would be moved behind closed doors from December 26 in an effort to slow the spread of the Omicron variant.

The new rules will apply to all indoor, outdoor, professional and community sports events, meaning fans will not be able to attend any of the traditional Boxing Day sports fixtures.

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