Covid Scotland: How much more bad news can Scotland’s NHS take?

Scotland may see further restrictions on travel introduced in the next few days, Nicola Sturgeon has said.

It comes after a third case of the new variant Omicron was discovered in the UK on Sunday, with the first cases imminently expected in Scotland.

Scientists still know very, very little about the new variant. Experts are working flat out to find out what they can, and there isn’t any sense panicking while they do so.

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However, experience should have taught governments that with Covid-19 it is better to act quickly and cautiously than to wait until it is too late, as has been the repeated pattern, especially at a UK level.

Staff at University Hospital Monklands attend to a Covid-positive patient on the ICU ward on February 5, 2021 in Airdrie, Scotland. Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

While there are early suspicions that Omicron may be more transmissible and less susceptible to vaccines than Delta, despite the alarming name it is probably not going to turn out to be a super ninja mutant completely unrecognisable from previous variants.

It might not end up presenting much of a threat at all, and fade into the background like Beta. It might, like Alpha and Delta, turn out to be similar to the previous strain but a bit worse.

The problem is that Scotland’s health system has very limited capacity to cope with anything even just a small bit worse.

Recent months have seen a reprieve from Covid for the general public, with nightclubs open, big events resumed and many allowing testing and contact tracing to fall by the wayside.

But health and social care workers tell a very different story.

While they are not dealing with too many Covid cases directly, the burden of ordinary care on a workforce already short-staffed and then further run down by exhaustion, sickness absence and burnout, has been too much to bear in some cases.

Patients have been forced to wait, ambulances have not arrived on time, vital operations have been delayed.

The situation has improved slightly in recent weeks, but staff are still exhausted. There is no quick fix, and December to February are expected to be gruelling regardless of the Covid situation.

While Scotland as a whole is in a far better position than last year in terms of vaccines and treatments for Covid, the healthcare system is in a worse state, and it is this that risks pushing leaders towards caution, and further restrictions.

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