The next few weeks could be the most dangerous period for Scotland since March in the fight against Covid, the first minister has warned.
Nicola Sturgeon said the new variant of the virus was “accelerating spread” across Scotland.
“If you first foot someone today, or hug/kiss/handshake them HNY, you are putting yourself, others and the NHS at risk,”
A further 2,539 cases of Covid-19 were confirmed on Friday.
The number is slightly down on Thursday’s figure, but Ms Sturgeon said cases numbers were still “worryingly high”.
Daily confirmed cases have reached record highs on each of the previous three days, rising to to 2,622 on Thursday.
The percentage of positive cases also reached 14.4% on Wednesday – the highest it has been since the second wave of the pandemic began in the summer.
Ms Sturgeon tweeted: “Today’s case numbers are worryingly high again. The new variant is accelerating spread.
“PLEASE do not visit other people’s homes just now, even today – if you first foot someone today, or hug/kiss/handshake them HNY, you are putting yourself, others & the NHS at risk.”
She said the “vaccine cavalry” was on the way, offering “real hope for 2021”, but she added: “With this new variant, the next few weeks may be the most dangerous we’ve faced since Mar/April.
“We must act together to suppress it, to save lives and protect the NHS. Folded hands stick with it.”
A new study by London’s Imperial College has found that the new variant of Covid-19 is “hugely” more transmissible than the virus’s previous version.
It concludes the new variant increases the Reproduction or R number by between 0.4 and 0.7.
The UK’s latest R number has been estimated at between 1.1 and 1.3. It needs to be below 1.0 for the number of cases to start falling.
The Scottish government’s most recent estimate of the R number in Scotland has put it between 0.9 and 1.1.
Emma Thomson, a professor of infectious disease at the University of Glasgow, said it was important to get people vaccinated quickly.
The professor, who has been working on the sequencing of the new Covid mutation, told the BBC that lockdown was not controlling the infection “on its own”.
“At least we come in armed into the new year with two vaccines which are highly effective at preventing severe disease. We have that,” she said.
“We need to roll it out now to add to the public health measures.”
Parties, traditional “first-footing” and social events were banned this Hogmanay, with all of mainland Scotland and Skye being under the highest level of Covid restrictions.
All official events were cancelled, but police had to disperse a crowds of people who gathered at Edinburgh Castle and Calton Hill to see in the new year.
It has also emerged that 32 people were charged with reckless conduct after police found them gathered at a rented property in Aberfoyle on 27 December.
A Scottish government spokesperson said: “As the first minister has pointed out, the sharp rise in cases is evidence that the new strain seems to be speeding up transmission.
“This is why we are asking people to please stay at home as much as possible and avoid non-essential interaction with others.
“There is light at the end of the tunnel, but we ask everyone to be patient as we work our way through the vaccination programme, and continue to follow FACTS to keep us all safe.”