NICOLA Sturgeon said she “cannot rule out” reimposing some restrictions if Covid numbers continue to accelerate, after infections in Scotland reached a record-breaking 4,323 in the past 24 hours.
The First Minister said the country is at a “fragile and potentially pivotal moment” with cases having more than doubled in the past week despite an “exceptional uptake” in vaccinations.
Hosting the first Covid briefing since Scotland moved to Beyond Zero restrictions on August 9, Ms Sturgeon issued a plea to unvaccinated people who are eligible to come forward for jags.
“That is the single most powerful thing we can do to keep each other safe,” she said.
Ms Sturgeon said the increase in cases over the past week was one of the sharpest at any point in the pandemic to date, adding that the 4,323 cases in the past 24 hours was the highest yet recorded.
The previous daily record, in early July, was 4,234.
“To some extent what we are seeing now is to be expected,” said Ms Sturgeon, stressing that the majority of recent cases have been detected in younger people.
“That said, the scale is a real cause for concern.”
Cases in Scotland are also rising much faster than the rest of the UK.
In England, which lifted most measures – including mandatory face coverings – on July 19, cases have been rising since July 29, but more slowly compared to Scotland.
The average number of daily infections in England, based on specimen date, has climbed by 15% from 22,825 on July 29 to 26,189 on August 15 – the most recent date for which figures are available.
In contrast, between August 2 (when cases began rising in Scotland) and August 20 – the most recent date for which figures are available – the average number of daily cases, by specimen date, rocketed by 155%, from 1115 to 2847.
Ms Sturgeon added that vaccines have “weakened significantly but not completely broken” the link between infection and serious illness, and that should infections continue to accelerate and pressure on hospitals increase over the coming weeks she “cannot completely rule out reimposing some restrictions”.
Data published on Monday showed that reported cases in Scotland had doubled from 10,045 in week ending August 16, to 21,176 in week ending August 23.
The impact also appears to now be feeding into hospitals, with 354 people in hospital with Covid today compared to 312 on Friday.
Intensive care numbers are also up, from 34 to 43.
Most measures, such as physical distancing and capacity limits on venues such as pubs, cinemas, and football stadiums, ended on August 19, with the country having moved to Level Zero three weeks prior.
National clinical director Jason Leitch described the recent surge as “startling”.
Speaking on BBC’s Good Morning Scotland, Prof Leitch said: “That’s doubled in seven days.
“We used to talk about the doubling rate in the old days of Alpha, but now we have Delta, and Delta is really hard – you can see it round the world causing problems even in places that haven’t had much virus like New Zealand, Australia, other parts of the Asia-Pacific. So we are concerned.
“It’s principally young people, but not only young people, but a big percentage are under-40.
“That means the harm is not as significant, but people are still harmed by this virus – either the older people who get it or some small proportion of those younger people.”