Covid in Scotland: One in 18 people had virus last week

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woman wearing a face maskImage source, Getty Images

Scotland again saw a rise in Covid cases last week, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

It estimates about 288,200 people - one in 18 - had the virus in the week ending 24 June and is the highest figure since early April.

That was up on the previous week when about 250,700 (one in 20) had Covid.

The latest ONS Infection Survey data compares with one in 30 for England and Wales and one in 25 for Northern Ireland.

It said the increase in the number of people testing positive was likely being driven by the Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 variants.

They are not thought to be more lethal than any other form of Covid but they do appear to be spreading more quickly.

Responding to the figures, Scotland's national clinical director Prof Jason Leitch told BBC Radio Scotland's Drivetime programme: "Let's be concerned but let's see what we can do as individuals to help."

He added that the numbers were "worrying", especially for groups such as the elderly or immunosuppressed, but added: "There's no suggestion we should go backwards."

Asked about the risks posed by mass events, such as next weekend's TRNSMT music festival in Glasgow, Prof Leitch urged those planning to attend to ensure they were vaccinated and not to go if they are sick.

The ONS survey said Covid infections in the UK had jumped by more than half a million in a week and hospital numbers were continuing to increase.

There are also early signs of a rise in intensive care admissions among older age groups.

A total of 2.3 million people in private households are estimated to have had the virus last week, up 32% from a week earlier.

This is the highest estimate for total infections since late April, but is still some way below the record high of 4.9m seen at the peak of the Omicron BA.2 wave at the end of March.

'Continued increase'

Sarah Crofts, ONS head of analytical outputs for the Covid-19 infection survey, said: "Across the UK we've seen a continued increase of over half a million infections, likely caused by the growth of BA.4 and BA.5 variants.

"This rise is seen across all ages, countries and regions of England.

"We will continue to monitor the data closely to see if this growth continues in the coming weeks."

On Wednesday, the latest Public Health Scotland weekly Covid-19 statistical report said there were 14,500 reported virus cases last week.

That was down slightly on the previous seven days when 15,541 virus cases were reported.

But the latest figures, for week ending 26 June, show the average number of patients in hospital with Covid rose by 32% to 1,148.

The ONS sampling is considered a better indicator than the PHS data as so few people are now reporting test results.

Prof Hugh Pennington, of the University of Aberdeen, said Omicron was "good at getting about" but not as effective as causing serious harm to people.

He told BBC Radio Scotland's Lunchtime Live he was not surprised by the current surge in cases as less was being done to control the spread of the virus.

But he said it was not clear why case rates were higher in Scotland.

'No simple explanation'

Prof Pennington said: "There's a fair amount of chance involved; it depends on super-spreader events, where the virus was a few months ago and all these kind of things.

"There's no simple explanation. You could say it's bad luck we've got higher figures than the rest of the UK.

"A lot of people don't have any symptoms but are still infectious."

The microbiologist said people were less likely to pass on the virus if they wore masks in crowded places.

He added: "I think there should be a bit more public encouragement to wear them.

"Not necessarily to go back to the compulsory rules we had but really have quite a good publicity campaign explaining why mask wearing is a good thing."

Image source, PA Media

Prof Pennington also hailed the vaccines as a "great success story" and added that they reduced the risk of hospitalisation.

Dr Christine Tait-Burkard, an infection expert at the University of Edinburgh, described the latest figures as "more comforting than alarming".

She believes the vast majority of cases in Scotland are people who have been infected for the first time.

Dr Tait-Burkard also told the Drivetime programme that Scotland appeared to be "just past the peak" or "hovering around a plateau".

She added: "At the moment these numbers still look relatively positive.

"In terms of the wider community, Covid has lost a lot of its ferocity and it is not as severe as it used to be in any way."

The expert said the country was now moving to a different stage of dealing with the virus, which involved protecting the most vulnerable.

'Not panicking'

Holyrood's Covid-19 Recovery Committee was told on Thursday that the recent spike in virus cases had left public health officials "concerned, but not panicking".

Prof Leitch told MSPs that the spike was not unexpected.

He said the public should consider making use of previous preventative measures.

Prof Leitch added: "Our advice remains pretty much the same, but you can tell our tone has changed in the last few weeks.

"It's about staying off if you're sick, whether that's college or work or school, certainly reintroducing or thinking about face coverings, handwashing, surfaces - all of those anti-viral things - and, of course, the key intervention remains vaccination."

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