Nicola Sturgeon will consider prolonging the requirement to wear face coverings in public places or reimpose harsher social restrictions if Scotland’s Covid surge continues at record levels.
The first minister warned the nation was at a “fragile and potentially pivotal moment” as 4,323 daily cases were registered which she confirmed was “largest we have ever recorded in a single day”. The previous highest daily level was 4,234 cases early last month.
New infections have more than doubled over the past week with around half of cases in the under-25s. People under 19 accounting for one third of yesterday’s total.
Hospital and intensive care cases have also increased in the past 24 hours. Speaking at a Scottish government coronavirus briefing in Edinburgh, Sturgeon said that surging infections would heap pressure on hospitals and lead to more deaths.
“That also means that, if this surge continues, and if it accelerates, and if we start to see evidence of a substantial increase in serious illness as a result, we cannot completely rule out having to reimpose some restrictions,” she said. “Of course, we hope not to have to do that and, if we did, we would be as limited and as proportionate as possible.
“However, as has been the case throughout so far, and up until this point, what happens in the next few weeks will depend, to a large extent, on all of us.”
While the rise in infections was not unexpected following the lifting of most restrictions a fortnight ago, Sturgeon described the scale of the increase as a “cause of real concern”.
Douglas Ross, the Scottish Conservative leader, said that the rise in case numbers was always likely as the country returned to normality. “Crucially we are not seeing a similar significant increase in those being admitted to hospital or into intensive care,” he said.
“Because of the success of the vaccination scheme, and the fact that so many people have been protected now by both doses, that means the effect of Covid-19 is far less than it was at this time last year,”
Sturgeon said that she would announce any further restrictions to parliament next week. “I’m not going to pre-empt that decision and we will reach a final view ahead of me announcing it to parliament next week but I think anybody can look at case rates rising right now and ask themselves if they think it is likely that we are suddenly going to say in a matter of days that everybody can stop wearing face coverings when I’ve spent a lot of time today asking people to make sure they are wearing their face coverings.
“These remaining restrictions are basic restrictions that most people think are worth following to keep as much of a break on cases as possible.”
The chief medical officer, Dr Gregor Smith, said there was “no single reason” for the recent spike in coronavirus cases in Dumfries and Galloway. The region had the highest rate of cases in Scotland for the week ending August 15, with the local NHS board saying there had been a “very large jump” in positive tests.
At that point, the weekly infection rate was 275.1 per 100,000 people. NHS Dumfries and Galloway has urged anyone who has not been vaccinated to come forward.
Sturgeon said that cases were rising sharply in Dumfries and Galloway, though most parts of the country were also seeing steep rises. The surge had already had an impact in some hospitals, she said.
Smith said: “Dumfries and Galloway is an area that we’ve been tracking for a week or so because it’s one of the first areas in Scotland that we started to see this rise in cases becoming apparent. No one single reason or driver for that rise in cases that we’re seeing in that area — we’re seeing a kind of diffuse rate of increase across the communities there.”
He asked people to keep in-person meetings to a minimum to prevent the virus spreading further.
Covid in Scotland: surge may force return of restrictions, Sturgeon warns