Nicola Sturgeon has said it’s a “race between the vaccine and the virus” as hospital admissions rise and the new coronavirus strain spreads across Scotland.
The First Minister revealed an analysis of samples showed that the variant was responsible for around 50% of new cases across the country.
According to NHS boards across Scotland, 1347 people are currently in hospital with confirmed or suspected Covid-19. Out of those, 93 patients are in intensive care.
Speaking at the Scottish Government’s coronavirus briefing on Tuesday, the First Minister said: “We haven’t been reporting hospital and ICU figures over the New Year bank holiday period, but to give you some context for that figure today, I can tell you that it is 255 more people in hospital now than was the case a week ago exactly.”
She highlighted that vaccines have been approved for use in the UK, which “offer a way out of this pandemic”.
She said more than 100,000 people have already been vaccinated in Scotland.
Sturgeon stated: “But in the race we currently face, and I am describing it deliberately as a race between the vaccine and the virus because that really is in essence what it is, we can’t rely solely on speeding up vaccination.
“That’s really important, but because this new variant is spreading so much more quickly we must also act as we vaccinate more people to slow the virus down, so that the vaccination can get ahead and ultimately be in a position where it wins the race.”
The First Minister also revealed that a further 11 people have died in Scotland after being diagnosed with coronavirus.
The update on Tuesday takes into account Covid deaths registered between January 1 and 4, though it was noted that registry offices have been closed over the public holidays.
The death toll of those who had tested positive stands at 4633, however weekly figures on suspected Covid-19 deaths recorded by National Records of Scotland suggest the most up-to-date total is at least 6298.
Total confirmed cases of the virus has risen to 139,027 – a jump of 2529 in the past 24 hours.
The daily test positivity rate is 14.8%, down from 15% on Monday, when 1905 cases were recorded.
Sturgeon said: “The current situation we face now is, in my view, more serious than it has been at any time since the spring.
“That’s because this new more transmissible variant of Covid is becoming increasingly common as I said a moment ago.
“And as a result of that cases are rising much more steeply and rapidly than they had been in the latter part of last year.
“And as a result of that more people are likely to become ill and the health service will come under more severe pressure.”
Of the new cases reported on Tuesday, 695 are in the Greater Glasgow and Clyde region, 388 are in Lanarkshire, 322 are in Lothian, and 210 are in Tayside.
The rest of the cases are spread out across eight other health board areas.
The figures were revealed as mainland Scotland returned to lockdown until at least the end of January in a bid to stem the spread of a new Covid-19 strain.
The latest restrictions came into force at midnight on Tuesday and affect all local authority areas in level four of the Scottish Government’s five-tier system.
Sturgeon announced the new rules on Monday afternoon, just hours before Prime Minister Boris Johnson imposed a third national lockdown on England.
A legally-enforceable stay-at-home order applies across mainland Scotland and Skye with people only permitted to leave their home for an “essential purpose”.
This includes essential shopping, exercise, caring for someone, or if you are part of an extended household.
Anyone able to work from home must do so, however those shielding to protect themselves from Covid-19 should not go into work – even if they cannot work from home.
Schools will be closed to most pupils until February 1 at the earliest, meaning an additional two weeks of home learning for youngsters, in a move welcomed by teaching unions on Monday.
They will remain open to the children of key workers who cannot work from home, and for vulnerable youngsters.
Unlike the lockdown in March, no restrictions have been put on outdoor exercise. However, the rules around outdoor gatherings for those aged 12 and over have changed to only allow two people from two different households to meet.
From Friday, places of worship must close but can open to broadcast a service or conduct a funeral, wedding or civil partnership.
A maximum of 20 people can attend a funeral service but wakes are banned, while up to five people can attend weddings and civil partnership services.
Ski centres, clinics offering cosmetic and aesthetic procedures and showrooms for larger retailers have also been forced to close under a tightening of premises designated as essential retail.
Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles remain in level three, which allows more shops, pubs and restaurants to open.
Sturgeon said: “Fundamentally I am asking everybody to really try hard to stay at home as much as possible, and only leave home if it is for a genuinely essential purpose.
“I know people in faith communities take great comfort from collective worship, this is is a particularly hard restriction to bear.
“But we do deem it essential at the moment to help us with that overall task of getting the virus back under control.”
She also pledged: “We will not keep these restrictions in place for any longer than necessary.”