Nicola Sturgeon defended Covid-19 restrictions in place across the north of Scotland as the country recorded its highest daily death toll from the virus in six months.
The overall number of deaths of people who first tested positive for coronavirus within the previous 28 days reached 3,143 on Wednesday, an increase of 64 from the previous day and the highest since May 6.
The first minister has faced criticism following an update to the Scottish Government’s five-tier coronavirus alert system on Tuesday that saw Angus, Fife and Perth and Kinross council areas move up to level three in line with Dundee.
Local leaders in Aberdeen have also argued that their area should be moved down a level because it has similar indicators to the the Highlands, which is already in tier one.
But speaking at the daily coronavirus briefing on Wednesday, Ms Sturgeon warned it was not in the interest of local authorities to be prematurely moved down because it could lead to the virus running out of control and measures being reimposed.
She said: “Aberdeen is one of the authorities that, all being well, we would hope would move down a level but we don’t yet have evidence of a sustained improvement and downward trajectory in Aberdeen, as is the case in many other parts of the country.
“And let me just try to explain why it’s really important that we do have that kind of evidence before we take any part of the country down a level. Taking a part of the country down a level is not some kind of neutral act.
“Going down a level means an easing of restrictions and that means the virus has more opportunities to transmit, and we will probably see transmission increasing.
“We’ve got to be certain before we increase the risks in that way that the particular area we’re talking about, whether it’s Aberdeen or anywhere else, is in a stable enough position to cope with that and that it’s not marginal, so that any increase in transmission isn’t immediately going to tip it into the higher level again.”
Business owners in Montrose expressed concern after Angus was moved up to level three despite the town having no new coronavirus cases in the past seven days.
Ms Sturgeon said decisions would continue to be taken on a council-by-council basis but admitted local factors, such as an area’s reliance on particular hospitals, could see decisions taken across health boards.
“I don’t want to be putting any local authority into any level of restrictions and I don’t want to be putting them into a higher level of restrictions,” she said.
“But coming at this from saying there’s no cases in Montrose therefore there’s no problem and we shouldn’t have restrictions, in the kind of situation Angus is in, I would politely suggest that is not the right way to look at it.
“When you’ve got cases rising in Angus by 47% in the space of the last seven days that is a rapid and sharp increase.
“If we do nothing about that, it may be the case that there’s no cases of Covid in Montrose today but I’m certain that will not still be the case this time next week.
“So this is actually about trying to make sure that we prevent that rapid increase we’re seeing across Angus causing more cases and the virus ending up in areas, if that’s true of Montrose, where it isn’t just now.”
‘Sacrifices having an effect’
Ms Sturgeon said stricter coronavirus restrictions imposed in Scotland had already “very significantly” slowed the spread of the virus and saved lives.
She said: “The measures that we have adopted in recent weeks and the sacrifices all of you – and people across the country – have been making have been having an effect.
“There’s no doubt, when we look at the data over the past few weeks, these measures have slowed very significantly the rate at which cases were increasing.”
Ms Sturgeon added: “Everybody should be under no doubt that these measures and these sacrifices have had an effect, and they will have saved lives.”
A further 1,261 positive coronavirus tests were recorded into Wednesday, taking the daily test positivity rate to 6.5%, down from 9.5% on Tuesday.
There were 1,235 people in hospital confirmed to have the virus, down four in 24 hours. Of these patients, 93 were in intensive care, down by nine.
Separate figures released by the National Records of Scotland (NRS) indicate 4,856 people in Scotland have died with confirmed or suspected coronavirus as of Sunday.
The statistics are published weekly and account for all deaths registered in Scotland when Covid-19 is mentioned on the death certificate.
They differ from the lab-confirmed coronavirus deaths announced daily by the Scottish Government because the NRS figures include suspected or probable cases of Covid-19.
The NRS statistics indicate 206 deaths relating to Covid-19 were registered between November 2 and 8, up 38 from the previous week.
Of these, 143 were in hospital, 53 in care homes and nine at home or in a non-institutional settings.