The number of coronavirus patients in Scottish hospital wards surged to record levels amid fears that widespread non-compliance with the national lockdown is fuelling a rapid rise in cases.
On Friday, 93 virus-related deaths were announced, the highest figure announced in a single day since the start of the pandemic, while the number of people being treated in hospitals rose to 1530, passing the previous first wave peak.
A national lockdown in Scotland was imposed on Boxing Day, in an effort to tackle a mutant strain of the virus that is believed to be significantly more transmissible. A legal ‘stay at home’ order was then imposed this week.
However, John Swinney, the Deputy First Minister, said that transport statistics suggested that the public was not complying with the rules to the same extent as during the first lockdown last March.
1,432,004 people in Scotland have been tested for #coronavirus
The total confirmed as positive has risen by 2,309 to 146,024
Sadly 93 more patients who tested positive have died (4,872 in total)
Latest update ➡ https://t.co/bZPbrCoQux
Health advice ➡ https://t.co/l7rqArB6Qu pic.twitter.com/XCn9Ho6TdO
— Scottish Government (@scotgov) January 8, 2021
More draconian rules are now being considered by ministers, which could see the shutdown of some factories and building sites, with new curbs potentially imposed on takeaways and retailers.
Iain Livingstone, Police Scotland’s chief constable, also took a harder line, warning that he would maximise the “visible presence” of officers to act as a deterrent against rule breakers.
He said that while the force would continue to use “compassion and common sense” in applying rules, officers would “act decisively to enforce the law” in cases where they encountered “wilful and blatant offences”.
The daily death toll was nine higher than the previous record, set in April, while the number of people being treated in hospital was 1,530, 63 more than the figure for Thursday and exceeding the previous peak of 1,520, also recorded in April.
While Nicola Sturgeon said delays in recording some of the deaths over the Christmas period may partially explain the “distressingly high” total, Jason Leitch, her national clinical director, warned that the situation was likely to worsen in the days ahead.
“The deaths today is an astonishingly difficult number to both read out and to comprehend,” he said, describing the toll as a “hugely significant number”.
He added: “I’m afraid the First Minister is right: it is going to get worse over the next little while potentially before it gets better.
“2,300 cases today, 2,300 cases odd tomorrow, in 10 days’ time that will be hospitalisations, in two to three weeks’ time that will unfortunately show in the mortality figures.”
Speaking to a Holyrood committee, Mr Swinney admitted it was “probably correct” to say that the amount people were moving around the country was higher than during the first lockdown in March.
Travel outside of a council area for non-essential reasons is banned, while a legal stay at home order came into force on Tuesday.
"We're monitoring very closely public transport use, we're monitoring closely traffic data, we're monitoring closely all of the information that's available to us around the level of movement in society,” he said.
"We are monitoring those issues very carefully with a view to potentially having to put in further measures that would further constrain the ability of individuals to have reasonable excuse to be at work, for example, and for employers to essentially justify those being at work.”
He added: "There is still too much movement in society and we do not see a reduction in the level of infectiousness."
A total of 146,024 people have tested positive in Scotland since the start of the pandemic. Of the patients in hospital, 102 are in intensive care - up by two on Thursday.
Mr Livingstone insisted that Police Scotland would act in a "proportionate, reasonable and fair" manner.
But he warned: "But be assured, be very very clear, where officers encounter wilful and blatant offences, we will continue to act decisively to enforce the law as the public would expect."