Covid Scotland: Do record case numbers matter any more?

Scotland has hit another record high in new Covid case numbers, with 3,887 reported on Wednesday.

But with hospitalisations and deaths remaining low, do high case numbers matter any more?

The vaccination programme has “broken the link” between high case numbers and hospitalisations and deaths, with the latter two measures much lower now than during the peaks of the first and second waves.

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Nicola Sturgeon was asked in a Covid-19 briefing on Tuesday if the time had come to stop publishing daily case rates, which can create a sense of panic not always justified.

The most common symptom of long covid is severe fatigue.
The most common symptom of long covid is severe fatigue.

But the First Minister said while there may come a time, it has not arrived yet.

While high case numbers are not nearly so concerning as during previous points of the pandemic, they are not consequence-free.

Hospital numbers are still rising, even if at a slower rate than before. Around 5 per cent of Covid cases are now ending up in hospital, half the rate during the second wave, but 5 per cent of a large number can still put pressure on the NHS.

Scottish Government modelling released last week predicted hospital demand could increase more than fivefold by mid July, to more than 1,000 patients.

Graph showing Scotland's three waves of Covid-19, with case numbers (grey), hospitalisations (red), and deaths (black). Hospitalisations and deaths are represented at a different scale to case numbers.

In Dundee where Covid rates are highest, a new Covid ward has been opened at Ninewells hospital to cope with increasing numbers.

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There are other concerns. Young people, many of whom have not been vaccinated, but have begun to resume normal activities, are still susceptible to long Covid, and to other complications from the virus which are not yet understood.

A study published in March found 70 per cent of patients hospitalised with Covid were not fully recovered after five months. Over a quarter of patients had significant symptoms of anxiety and depression at their five-month follow-up appointment, the UK-wide PHOSP-COVID study found.

High case numbers also present a risk of variants developing, which may be more resistant to current vaccines.

Dr Eleanor Gaunt, of the Roslin Institute at Edinburgh University, warned earlier this week: “If we put the virus into a high-pressure situation, where it's circulating in a partially-vaccinated population, then there's the risk that a variant emerges that's able to evade vaccine-induced immunity.”

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