Tougher lockdown restrictions could be needed in Scotland as the NHS is coming under “severe and increasing pressure” from coronavirus, Nicola Sturgeon has warned.
Days after mainland Scotland entered its second national lockdown, the First Minister warned stricter measures could still be needed to combat the faster spreading strain of Covid-19.
Her comments came as the number of people in hospital in Scotland with the virus rose to 1,467 – “pretty close” to the number reached at the peak of the first wave.
Some activities which were halted in March have been allowed to continue, such as professional sport and some construction and manufacturing work.
But Ms Sturgeon said: “For this lockdown to really be as effective as we need it to be we must radically reduce the number of interactions we are having, and that means reducing to a minimum when people are required to leave their homes.
“If we need to require more non-essential activities to close in order to achieve this, we will have to do that. That is a matter of ongoing review by the Scottish Government right now.”
Speaking at her daily coronavirus briefing, the First Minister added: “At this stage people need to prioritise limiting the spread of this virus, and if we think as a Government that we need to go further in terms of the regulations and the legal restrictions, we will do that, because we have to cut interactions sufficiently to stop this virus spreading.
“If it takes more tough decisions… then that is what I will do.
“Because we see from case numbers, death numbers, pressure on our health service that we can not allow this virus to run away from us, the consequences of that are just too great.”
With hospital numbers rising again during winter – traditionally the busiest time of the year for the health service – Ms Sturgeon said: “The NHS is coping but… it is under severe and increasing pressure.”
Wintry weather in recent days means accident and emergency staff are having to deal with cases of people falling and slipping on ice, as well as the impact of Covid-19.
Ms Sturgeon said: “Every single person who gets infected with this virus is someone who might need hospital care in future – the more all of us stay at home and reduce the opportunities for the virus to spread, the more all of us help the NHS cope.
“Stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives. That is now just as important as it was last March and I ask everybody to take it just as seriously as all of us did back then.”
She said the NHS was under “greatest pressure” in the Borders area, along with Greater Glasgow and Clyde and the Ayrshire and Arran region.
But she said the NHS was under pressure across the whole country, urging Scots: “It needs all of us to help play our part in helping the heroes that work in it to cope and do the job they are doing in such difficult circumstances.”
Chief medical officer Dr Gregor Smith also spoke about the impact coronavirus was having on NHS staff.
He said: “I have colleagues right across community and hospital-based care that turn up every day, and I know how hard they are working just now and how tired they are. They have had not just a couple of weeks of hard work behind them, but actually this has been going on for months now.
“When I speak to them I recognise their unease and their anxiety at times about what they are faced with ahead, because there is some uncertainty for them when they turn up at work just how busy they are going to be and just exactly what they are going to be faced with over the day.
“We should never underestimate the impact that has on individuals.”
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