The comments from members of the Scottish Academy of Medical Royal Colleges and Faculties came as an additional 740 new cases of Covid-19 were reported in Scotland on Sunday with 12.3 per cent of tests coming back positive.
For the pandemic to be considered under control, test positivity should stay below five per cent, the World Health Organisation has said.
The warnings from the medics also came as the Scottish Conservatives said they should come as “no surprise” to the Scottish Government and called on more cash to be spent on the NHS to help tackle Covid-19.
Before Christmas, around 40 per cent of the new cases of Covid-19 in Scotland during the week beginning December 14 were considered to be caused by the new ‘highly transmissable’ strain of the virus, up from 14 per cent the week before.
Fears within the Scottish Government of the potential impact of the new strain lead to the effective lockdown across mainland Scotland.
However, the warnings from the medics’ organisation, which includes representatives from the Royal College of Anaesthetists, the Royal College of General Practitioners, the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow, the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, and the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, also stressed the importance of the public playing their part.
Labelling the current situation “bleak” despite the approval of the AstraZeneca vaccine imminent, the organisation warned the NHS is already “severely stretched”.
They said: “Scotland has been able to reduce infection rates, but the new strain is highly infectious and will undoubtedly increase the rate of Covid-19 infection and hospital admissions in the days and weeks ahead.
“We are gravely concerned that this could lead to the NHS being overwhelmed.
The public were also urged not to let their guard down, with the medics warning of hospitals close to reaching capacity.
It said: “Our general practices are exceptionally busy and our hospitals are already near capacity. We risk facing a ‘perfect storm’ of challenges if we don’t take collective action now to prevent further spread of Covid-19.”
Stressing the Scottish Government should look at all possible measures to restrict the spread of Covid-19, the group warned the impact of vaccines would take months to come through.
The group added that “all other potential measures to decrease community transmission should be considered by the Government”.
They said: “This is urgently required so our NHS can focus on three key tasks – rolling out the vaccine programme, continuing with the rapid testing programmes, and providing emergency care for Covid as well as other medical problems.”
Scottish Labour health spokesperson Monica Lennon said it was critical the Scottish Government heeded the “stark warning” from the Scottish Academy.
She said: “Resourcing and strengthening our NHS so that people get the right care when they need it, must be a national priority.
“Thousands of people have already missed out on vital healthcare this year.
“That’s why we need a government that is focused on investing in frontline staff and tackling waiting times, instead of gaming for an independence referendum.”
Donald Cameron, the Scottish Conservative’s health spokesperson labelled the warnings “dire” and said they should come as no shock to the Scottish Government.
He said: “These dire warnings, however, should come as no surprise to SNP ministers, who have been told for months that the NHS is nearing capacity during the second wave of this virus, not to mention the impact caused by the backlog of cancelled operations which has built up during the pandemic.
“The UK Government has supercharged Scotland’s funding in the face of Covid-19 with over £8billion extra contributed for spending, including for the NHS.
“It is the responsibility of SNP ministers to make sure health funding gets to the right place, and they now need to step up to the plate, and quickly.”
Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie added: “What needs to happen now is that the NHS and other support services are adequately resourced to deal with a perfect storm of addressing any backlog, delivering the vaccine, winter pressures and complications resulting from a needless and damaging Brexit.
“We also need to recognise that NHS staff will be exhausted and demoralised at this time, so we need to look after their wellbeing too, managing workloads and staffing levels.”
Alex Cole-Hamilton, the Scottish Liberal Democrat health spokesperson said the warning showed that Scotland was at a “serious moment” in the pandemic.
He said: “People know what they have to do to cut transmission. We will also find out if the winter service planning by Scottish ministers is enough to meet the challenge which has been growing for months."
In response to the warnings, a Scottish Government spokeswoman said it was possible for the NHS to treble ICU capacity within a fortnight if required.
She said: “We are working closely with health boards to ensure the NHS is well prepared for the additional pressures that the season normally brings, as well addressing the risks of a resurgence of Covid-19 and EU exit.
“Our winter planning process includes assessing our readiness across all aspects of health and care, including Test and Protect, vaccinations, PPE supplies and the maintenance of essential services, including urgent and emergency.
“As part of the specific response to Covid-19, boards will maintain the ability to double their ICU capacity within one week, treble in two weeks and, if required, extend this to over 700 in total across Scotland.
“In addition, to support this, over 60 ICU and supportive care medicines, as well as supplies of Covid-19 treatments, have been centrally procured.”
The spokeswoman said health boards would be assisted to “manage pressures while still trying to maintain non Covid-19 related health care as safely as possible”.