Scotland has recorded a record 15,849 new coronavirus cases but there will be no immediate changes to existing restrictions, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said on Wednesday.
Addressing a virtual briefing of the Scottish Parliament, she told MSPs that a further 15,849 cases were recorded across Scotland on Tuesday – by some margin the highest daily case number reported during the pandemic so far.
It means the country has seen a surge of more than 55,000 cases since Christmas Day. A total of 8252 cases were reported on December 25, 11,030 on December 26, 10,562 on December 27, and 9360 on December 28.
The First Minister also said the Omicron variant now accounts for 80% of total cases.
She added: “We should also bear in mind that any transmission over recent days will not yet be fully evident in the reported figures.
“It is reasonable to assume therefore that we will continue to see steep increases in cases in the days and possibly weeks ahead.
“It is encouraging that, at least until now, the rise in cases experienced over the past few weeks has not translated into a corresponding rise in hospital admissions or occupancy.
“On the contrary, the number of people in hospital with Covid has so far remained broadly stable.
“I would expect that within the next couple of weeks, we will have a clearer picture and that this will then help us reach informed judgments about the most proportionate response going forward.
“In the meantime, however, while we better understand the impacts and while more and more of us get the added protection of booster vaccinations – which will help reduce the impacts – we must try to avoid the sheer volume of cases overwhelming us.
“That is why it is prudent, indeed essential, that we slow transmission as much as possible.”
New restrictions were introduced in Scotland on December 26 and 27, with fresh measures being imposed on the hospitality sector.
Those include one-metre social distancing and table service only in bars.
Nightclubs have also been closed, whilst further measures have been put in place for cinemas, theatres and restaurants.
Large sporting events are also now virtually spectator-free, with only 500 fans being allowed in at matches in the Scottish Premiership and the league opting to bring forward its winter break.
The derby fixture between Celtic and Rangers, due to take place on January 2, will now take place on February 2.
The 15,849 cases recorded on Tuesday is 4819 more than the previous high recorded on Boxing Day.
Three more people have died after testing positive for the virus, taking the total number of coronavirus-related deaths to 9836.
As of Tuesday night, 679 people were in hospital with Covid-19, 80 more than the previous day, and 36 were in intensive care – a decrease of one.
Sturgeon has been under pressure to ease the self-isolation requirement from ten to seven days, but she told MSPs it was important not to get “carried away” by initial studies on hospitalisation rates.
She said: “If we release people from isolation while they may still be infectious then yes we will relieve some of the pressure that we are seeing on the economy and that is not to be underestimated but that will be short-lived because the risk we take is that we will actually accelerate the spread of the virus and then that pressure on the economy will increase in the medium to long-term.”
Meanwhile, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton reiterated calls for the First Minister to set out Scotland’s national capacity for PCR testing and how it would be expanded to deal with a surge in demand.
He said: At this time, Parliament is still in the dark about our capacity. It is imperative that the First Minster fulfils her commitment to update the Chamber on this matter.
“I met with the hospitality sector last week and they told me that the money on offer at the moment represents just one eighth of their January payroll. It will barely last them three days.
“Today’s 16,000 cases will leave them in serious doubt that they’ll be allowed to reopen on the January 17. Many businesses are on the verge of making irreversible decisions and people are losing their jobs.
“It is clear that the First Minister, if her government chooses to extend restrictions beyond January 17, needs to offer reassurance that further support will be made available to a hospitality sector already on its knees.”
At lunchtime on Wednesday, only four out of the 56 walk-in testing sites in Scotland were available for booking a same-day appointment.
These were the Highland Council headquarters car park in Inverness, Mossfield Car Park in Oban, Langlee Community Centre in Galashiels, and Wick Highland Riverside in Caithness.
The others did do not have any PCR test appointments available until Thursday, and most of those are in the afternoon.
Sturgeon said a widespread shortage of PCR tests across the devolved nations was due to an administrative error.
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