A QUARTER of coronavirus deaths in Scotland are in care homes, according to new figures which also show a further rise in deaths unrelated to Covid-19.

The latest weekly statistics from the National Records of Scotland (NRS) showed the infection was implicated in at least 962 deaths up to April 12.

In the last week, it was implicated in almost a third of all deaths in Scotland.

Scottish Labour accused the Scottish Government of being “too slow to act” and called on Nicola Sturgeon to launch an emergency plan for care homes.

The First Minister announced a new move to test all symptomatic care home residents from now on, instead of just the first person showing Covid-19 symptoms in a home.

She also confirmed another 84 deaths in all settings overnight.

Six Scottish homes have so far recorded multiple deaths for the virus, with 433 reporting confirmed or suspected cases.

The most recent census found around 36,000 adults in Scotland’s care homes in March 2017, however no new figures have been published since September 2018.

The mortality rate in care homes from coronavirus is now 30 times that in general population, at around 60 deaths per 10,000 residents compared to 1.8 per 10,000 people in general, although the population in care homes is far older and more fragile than the country as a whole.

The NRS numbers, which include cases where suspected Covid-19 was recorded as a factor on the death certificate, are considered more accurate than the daily running total produced by Health Protection Scotland, which only counts laboratory-confirmed cases of Covid-19.

The NRS figure was 70 per cent higher than the 556 deaths recorded by Health Protection Scotland (HPS) as of April 12.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: How many cases and deaths in my area?

The HPS daily total for confirmed deaths to 9am on April 15 is 699.

For the first time, the NRS statistics provided a breakdown of the locations in which coronavirus victims died. 

Of the 962 deaths, 596 or 62% were in hospital, 237 or 24.6% were in care homes, and 128 or 13.3% were in the person’s home or another “non-institutional setting”. 

Almost 70% of all deaths involving Covid-19 were among people aged 75 or over, and 56.5% of the deaths were male.

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde remains the health board with the highest number of Covid-19 deaths, with 193 registered so far, compared to 122 by April 5.

To date, there have been no registered deaths involving COVID-19 in the Western Isles

The NRS figures also showed a worrying gulf between the total number of deaths recorded last week and the five-year average.

Between April 6 and 12, there were 1,969 deaths registered, 869 or 79% above the average of 1100.

However Covid-19 was recorded as a factor in 608 of these extra deaths

This repeats a pattern seen in the week to April 5, when 1,741 deaths were registered in total against an average of 1,098, and only 282 of the 643 extra deaths featured Covid-19.

The apparent increase in deaths unrelated to Covid-19 has prompted fears that reluctant patients are failing to seek treatment for other serious conditions until it is too late.

There is a concern that people are avoiding hospitals for fear of catching coronavirus, or because they do not want to add to the burden on the NHS.

A similar phenomenon was seen in data released this week by the Office of National Statistics for England and Wales.

Pete Whitehouse, Director of Statistical Services at NRS, said: “All of these deaths are tragic for the families involved.

READ MORE: Death rate from Covid in England is nearly twice as high as Scotland

“These statistics, when placed alongside the other important evidence being made available by the Scottish Government and Health Protection Scotland (HPS), are valuable to the understanding of the progress and impact of the COVID-19 virus across the country.

“We are actively considering how we continue to develop the content of our statistics to ensure they provide the most useful information possible and add value to the understanding of how the virus is spreading throughout Scotland.”

At the Scottish Government's daily briefing on Covid-19, Ms Sturgeon said she had "no evidence" that more early testing of care home residents and staff could have reduced deaths.

She said her Government would be "moving as quickly possible" to expand testing to all symptomatic care home residents but stressed it is "not strictly necessary" and would be done to give confidence to relatives, staff and the wider public.

She confirmed symptomatic care home workers would also be tested.

She said: "We already test the first residents in any care home to become symptomatic of coronavirus in order to establish the presence of the virus in that home and then ensure that all appropriate measures are taken to protect all residents.

"However, we're moving now to test all symptomatic patients in care homes.

"The advice to me is that while this is not strictly necessary, nor will it change the clinical management of cases at care homes, it is nevertheless important for the confidence of relatives staff and the wider public, given the vulnerability of care homes.

"But let me also stress that guidance to care homes is already very clear about isolation and social distancing, and that remains the most important factor in making sure that we're managing and preventing infections in care homes."

The interim chief medical officer, Dr Gregor Smith, confirmed increased testing will not change the measures care homes take in the event of a positive diagnosis.

He said: "The most important part is to make sure that the risk assessment of how those patients are shielded from the risk of infection, and that infection prevention and control mechanisms are in place within each one of those care homes and are maximised to prevent further spread."

Ms Sturgeon said people leaving hospital to return to care homes in Scotland will not be routinely tested, in contrast to England.

She said testing people not showing symptoms is unreliable and she does not want to give care homes "false assurance" that a person returning is not infected, arguing it could cause staff to wrongly relax infection control measures.

Age Scotland chief executive Brian Sloan called for assurances that "care home residents have fair and equal access to medical treatment".

He said: "It is devastating to learn that 237 care home residents in Scotland have died as a result of coronavirus. The fear we have had over the past few weeks about the impact this is having on some of the people most at risk has now sadly become a reality.

"No age group is immune but these grim figures highlight once again the devastating effect that this virus has on the lives of older people.

"Each and every death is a tragic loss to those who knew and loved them. Care homes must be supported with everything they need to prevent and stop the spread of this virus among residents and staff."

Scottish Tory leader Jackson Carlaw said it was clear that care homes and their staff were "every bit as much on the frontline as hospitals and paramedics".

He said: “The scale of the deaths and cases will have shocked people across the country.

“It’s now more essential than ever that these workers are given the PPE and access to testing they need.

“Clearly, elderly patients shouldn’t be leaving hospital and going into a care home without being tested for coronavirus.

“If the SNP government takes a different approach to testing on this specific matter, it will again be under pressure to show why this is of benefit to the people of Scotland.”

Scottish Labour MSP Monica Lennon said significant intervention and support was needed to address PPE shortages, limited testing for residents and staff and a workforce crisis in homes.

She said: “Each life lost in a care home due to coronavirus is a tragedy. 

“It’s heart-breaking that care staff and families fear that older people are being forgotten in the fight against coronavirus.

“The Scottish Government has been too slow to act - Nicola Sturgeon must publish an emergency plan for care homes with guaranteed support on testing and PPE.

“Hundreds of older people have been discharged from hospital in recent weeks to relieve pressure on our NHS – and many of them to residential care.

“Worryingly, we now know that coronavirus is spreading within hospitals, as well as care homes, but efforts to test, trace and isolate the virus are woeful.

“That’s why I’ve asked Jeane Freeman whether hospital patients are being tested for COVID-19 before being discharged to care homes – and if not, why not?

“Urgent action is needed to save lives.”

Scottish LibDem leader Willie Rennie added: "Every person being admitted to a care home should be tested for coronavirus. No exception. 

"For homes that have been diligently applying safety measures to keep residents safe this is an additional risk they should not be forced to accept. While new occupants may still need to be isolated, those living and working in the homes deserve this reassurance. 

"Residents, and worried family and friends, need to be able to rely on stringent checks."

Scottish Green health spokesperson Alison Johnstone said: “The scale of Covid-19 in Scotland has clearly not been reflected in the daily figures, with a large gap between those who have been tested and the numbers of people who have died of this virus.

“Many of these are in care homes. That’s why the Scottish Government must work with the care sector to ensure urgent action is taken to prevent any further infections in care homes, including the necessary PPE for all staff at all times and more testing.

“The World Health Organisation has been very clear that testing is a vital component in tackling this pandemic. The number of tests being carried out per day in Scotland has barely changed since the beginning of the month.

"We recognise that increasing capacity is challenging, but it must be made an absolute priority by this Government if we’re to contain the virus, save lives and, eventually, come out of lockdown.”

Scottish Labour Party leader Richard Leonard, said: “The increase in the number of deaths announced today is deeply saddening. Every death from coronavirus is a tragedy.

“What today’s figure makes clear is the huge human cost of coronavirus in our care homes. It is not good enough that outbreaks in care homes and hospitals have up to now been treated differently.

“Scottish Labour welcomes the announcement that testing will begin for all symptomatic residents in care homes, but assurances are needed that this testing will also be extended to staff. 

“Scottish Labour has today called for the SNP government to bring forward an emergency plan to deal with the effect of coronavirus in our care homes including clarity on the expansion of testing and PPE availability.”

The NRS has now produced weekly death certificate for the first four weeks since Covid-19 was first mentioned on a death certificate on March 16. 

Last week, the NRS statistics showed at least 354 people had died up to April 5, when the HPS confirmed toll stood at 220.

Theresa Fyffe, Director of the Royal College of Nursing in Scotland said: "The impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on our most vulnerable is clear from the figures released today. Our thoughts are with those who have lost loved ones across the country.

“Nursing staff in Scotland’s care homes and community teams are still struggling to obtain adequate supplies of PPE and staffing levels are being stretched. I want to assure nursing staff working in care homes that they are not the forgotten frontline.

"The RCN is clear on the contribution you are making and the challenges you are facing. We are making sure your voice is heard and pushing to ensure you have the resources you need.”

Glasgow City Council has confirmed it is setting up a make-shift mortuary on an industrial estate to accommodate up to 1,700 cadavers because of coronavirus.

The warehouse at Hillington Industrial Estate, close to the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, is being converted into a “temporary body storage facility”.

It may be opened as soon as next week if required.

A council spokeswoman said: "Like all local authorities across the UK, Glasgow, alongside key partners including NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, is looking at various options for dealing with increased deaths as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak.

"We are monitoring on a daily basis the impact of Covid-19 against our planning models for the pandemic including potential requirements for a temporary body storage facility.

"As part of this planning, a site has been identified and we are working towards making this facility ready for use should it be needed." 

There are also makeshift morgues at Edinburgh's Mortonhall crematorium, Macmerry Industrial Estate in East Lothian, and Inveralmond Industrial Estate near Perth.

A military hangar at Kinloss Barracks in Moray is also on standby for use as a mortuary.