John Swinney said while there is nothing to stop party-goers from heading south of the border, where nightclubs are still open, for their Hogmanay celebrations, this would go against the “spirit” of the regulations put in place by the Scottish Government.
That has seen nightclubs ordered to close their doors again for at least three weeks from December 27.
Limits on the number of people who can take part in events – capping these at a maximum of 500 out of doors, with smaller numbers permitted indoors – have also forced the cancellation of New Year’s Eve street parties, including the one planned for Edinburgh.
Instead, the Scottish Government is urging people to “stay at home as much as possible” – with any meet-ups to be limited to a maximum of three households.
Mr Swinney insisted that, in the wake of record Covid infections resulting from the Omicron variant, these are “proportionate and appropriate” measures, which Scottish ministers brought in “reluctantly” to protect public health.
The Deputy First Minister, who is also Scotland’s Covid-19 Recovery Secretary, accepted that, while it is legally permitted for people to travel to England to take part in celebrations there, this would not be in “the spirit of the rules we are putting forward”.
Mr Swinney, speaking on BBC Breakfast, said: “People have got to make their own choices, they have got to follow the advice we put in place.
“We have the power in Scotland to put in place certain restrictions and we have done those on what we consider to be a proportionate and appropriate basis.”
He added: “People are free to make their own judgments. But what we have got recognise is that Omicron is a serious threat to absolutely everybody within our society and we have all got to take measures to protect ourselves by limiting our social contacts and connections and by complying with the restrictions we have in place.”
Asked if there would be anything to stop people heading to England, Mr Swinney stated: “People are free to take those decisions, but I would discourage them from doing so.
“I think it is the wrong course of action for people to take because we have a serious situation we have got to manage and we encourage everybody to play their part in addressing that.”
His comments came after Covid infections in Scotland spiked over the Christmas period, with a record 11,030 cases reported on December 26 – the highest total the country has seen since the start of the pandemic.
Mr Swinney said Scotland is seeing levels of infection “never seen before”, adding that this is an “alarming increase which I believe merits the type of restrictions we are reluctantly having to apply”.
While he accepted that “Hogmanay is an enormous celebration in Scotland”, he said the high case levels mean “we have very reluctantly had to take the steps we have had to take to make it impossible for large-scale events to take place, like the Edinburgh Hogmanay celebrations”.
He insisted: “We have to take these decisions to protect public health and the public interest at a very challenging moment.”