Covid Scotland: Infections at highest level on record, ONS estimates

Covid infections in Scotland are at their highest level since records began in Autumn 2020, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Around one in 18 people had Covid in Scotland in the week to March 5, the ONS infection survey has estimated.

This equates to 5.7 per cent of the population, marginally higher than the 5.65 per cent recorded in the week to January 4 at the peak of the Omicron wave.

It comes just four days before Nicola Sturgeon is set to confirm whether the planned easing of all legal restrictions in Scotland can go ahead on March 21.

A health worker removes Covid-19 test kits from a box at a NHS Test and Trace Covid-19 testing unit. Photo by ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP via Getty Images

Professor Rowland Kao, chair of veterinary epidemiology and data science at Edinburgh University, said the situation is uncertain due to several recent changes in guidance and data gathering, and it is not possible to predict whether it will worsen in the coming weeks.

Case numbers may be higher than reported in the Scottish Government’s daily figures, he said, due to dominance of the Omicron subvariant BA.2 which may cause milder symptoms, leading to more people carrying and transmitting the disease without realising.

Covid hospitalisations, which are now higher than the peak in January at 1,663, may be a more reliable indicator.

The situation is not yet a cause for “massive concern”, Prof Kao said.

“It's worth watching but we're not in a state where things are really, really bad,” he said.

"We obviously don't want to get there.”

He added: “It’s hard to know how far it'll keep going up. It's very hard to tell with the current mix of data that we've got… if hospital numbers continue to go up, there is some threshold - which I'm not aware of what it is - where [the Scottish Government] will say okay, we can’t actually push ahead [with the easing of restrictions].”

Prof Kao said the increase in cases may be due to a combination of the BA.2 variant, restrictions easing and waning immunity in older people who had their booster vaccine in early Autumn.

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A spokesperson for the Scottish Government said: “We are seeing an increase in cases in Scotland due to the dominance of the more transmissible Omicron BA.2 variant, and inevitably as people mix more, the virus transmits more.

Covid-19 has not gone away. People should remain vigilant and careful, particularly around people who are more vulnerable. Vaccination is still be the best way to protect yourself against severe disease and those called forward for boosters should do so.”

“All public health measures are kept under continuous review and decisions are informed by the latest scientific and clinical advice.”

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon urged Scots to continue to take “sensible precautions”.

In response to new figures on hospitalisations with Covid she tweeted on Friday: “Life is much more normal again - thankfully - but this is a reminder that Covid hasn’t gone away. Vaccines are protecting most of us from worst impacts of the virus - but many do still end up in hospital.

“Please continue to take sensible precautions, like wearing a mask.”

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