Politics

Covid: Nicola Sturgeon to give update today after record spike in hospital admissions

THE number of patients in hospital with Covid is at its highest level since February last year following the single largest daily increase on record.

Previous waves, since the definition of a hospital case was narrowed in September 2020, have seen daily increases of around 50 to 60 patients, at most.

It is unclear how much this rapid increase in hospital cases reflects the high prevalence of the virus in the community – with a record 113,000 cases reported in the past seven days – as opposed to people falling sick due to infections caused by the Omicron variant.

The peak of the previous Delta wave saw just under 45,000 cases detected in a single week, and testing capacity has been struggling to keep pace with demand.

Details on the number of people being admitted to hospital because of Covid and the proportion who are testing positive “incidentally” during treatment for other conditions is expected to be disclosed in updates from Public Health Scotland today.

READ MORE: When is Nicola Sturgeon update today amid record-high cases?

The number of Covid patients currently in intensive care – at 42 – remains around half the figure seen at the same point in the Delta wave, possibly signalling milder disease from the Omicron variant as well as high protection against serious illness from boosters. However, ICU admissions lag behind overall hospital cases, and even “incidental” Covid causes major disruption for the NHS as patients still have to be isolated.

The figures came as NHS Lanarkshire warned that its hospitals are “exceptionally busy” and appealed to relatives to look after patients at home, if possible.

In a statement, the health board said: “We recognise that not all families will be in a position to do this, but we are asking families with relatives in hospital who are no longer receiving treatment to consider bringing them home where appropriate to help ease current pressures.”

MSPs are being recalled today for an update on the Covid situation from Nicola Sturgeon, which will be held virtually.

The First Minister is under pressure to shorten the self-isolation period from 10 to seven days, in line with the rest of the UK, amid mounting concerns over the impact of worker absences on the economy and public sector.

Deputy John Swinney today said the Scottish Government was “actively considering” the change.

HeraldScotland: First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Picture: Euan Ferguson/Scottish Parliament

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, people who have tested positive can stop isolating after a week if they have negative lateral flow tests on days six and seven – indicating that they are unlikely to still be infectious – but in Scotland they must  stay at home for 10 days.

Mr Swinney also conceded Scotland’s coronavirus testing system faces “congestion” and “challenges” as schools and businesses return after the festive break.

Recent days have seen postal supplies of PCR tests run out at times in Scotland, with shortages of testing slots for the general public at some drive-in and walk-in centres.

Key workers, such as teachers and emergency services workers, can access separate priority appointments.

Speaking to the BBC yesterday, Mr Swinney said use of lateral flow devices by the public was “very good”, with 85 per cent of the population using one in the past week.

He added: “But obviously, as people return to school, staff, pupils, as people return to the workplace, it’s important that they do that before they embark on it and then, of course, if they’re positive, to take the necessary steps to receive a PCR test.”

Pushed on PCR test supply, he said: “I think there will be congestion at different points.

“It’s impossible for me to give you a guarantee that at individual test sites there will not be challenges in particular geographies, but I’m confident that we have got a strong testing proposition.”

Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross called on Ms Sturgeon to stop “dithering and delaying” over changes to self-isolation.

He said: “We’ve been calling for weeks for these changes to self-isolation rules to be done safely and since then we’ve seen more evidence that the Omicron variant is proving to be less severe in terms of the impact it is having on those who get the virus.

“Nicola Sturgeon must listen to the warnings from many crucial sectors and finally implement a cut in the length of time that people have to isolate for.”

Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie also demanded a decision on the policy, saying: “The number of staff absences from the NHS and social care is very high and this is having more of an impact on services. The SNP must use this update to confirm whether they will change self-isolation requirements in line with the latest evidence, to stop staff absences piling yet more pressure on businesses and services this winter.”

Ms Baillie also pushed for an increase in testing capacity, saying the system was currently showing signs of “considerable strain”.

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