THE total number of people being treated in hospital in Scotland halved at the start of the Covid outbreak, as wards were emptied and new admissions severely restricted.

Even now, hospitals are only dealing with around two thirds of the number of patients they normally would, according to a new report which reveals the scale of the shutdown for the first time.

Public Health Scotland (PHS) says patient admissions “fell sharply” from around 15,000 on March 8 to just over 8000 by the end of the month.

This is nearly 50 per cent lower than normal, with hospital occupancy averaging 15-16,000 at any one time during 2018 and 2019.

Health boards came under pressure to free up beds ahead of an expected surge in Covid admissions, with discharges of elderly patients into care homes stepped up and routine procedures suspended.

READ MORE: Why Covid's silent spreaders are the 'big question' troubling pandemic scientists 

There have also been reports of frail elderly people being refused admission from care homes into hospital during the crisis.

Weekly attendances at A&E plunged 56% to a record low of 11,000 following lockdown, leading to fears people suffering heart attacks and strokes were avoiding the NHS, while deaths at home averaged 485 a week during the eight weeks to May 10 - 200 more than normal.

HeraldScotland: PHSPHS

Although admissions started to climb back up in mid-April they began levelling off again during May, and by the end of the month there were just 10,635 people in hospital, 31% below the two-year average. Only 732 of these patients had Covid.

The PHS report states: “Similar patterns are seen by sex and by deprivation, but falls were larger for children under 14 years and smaller for those aged 85 years and over.

“There were larger relative falls for surgical than medical specialties...the pattern was broadly similar across NHS Boards.”

HeraldScotland: PHSPHS

By the end of May, medical admissions for conditions such as heart disease and cancer remained 22% lower than normal, with the number of patients in hospital for surgery still 40% below average.

Admissions for patients aged 85 and older were still 25% below average, but had been as much as 43% lower than normal at the end of March.

READ MORE: Huge spike in deaths at home during Covid 

The five to 14 age group - which experienced the biggest drop in admissions of 61% - was still 51% lower than normal by the end of May, despite the very low risk of the virus to children and teenagers.

HeraldScotland: PHSPHS

It comes amid pressure on the Scottish Government to re-start elective operations, with figures showing that there were just ten Covid-related hospital admissions per day in the two weeks to June 2 - down from a peak of more than 200 a day at the start of April.

Intensive care admissions for Covid have also slowed, with just eight new patients treated for the disease in ICUs in the three weeks to June 7.

There are now just 15 patients with confirmed coronavirus in intensive care in the whole of Scotland, back to levels seen at the very beginning of the outbreak.

At least 80,000 people are waiting for surgery that was delayed as a result of pandemic planning.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told MSPs that health boards and working to remobilise services, adding that one option being considered is the use of the dormant NHS Louisa Jordan - a field hospital converted from Glasgow’s Scottish Exhibition Centre.

“We will ensure the temporary hospital is there as long as we may need it, and remobilisation plans are considering its use for some elective treatments,” said Ms Sturgeon.

READ MORE: Coronavirus 'was spreading in Scotland in February'

Meanwhile, it emerged that more than 700 people in Scotland have been told to self-isolate after being contacted through the Test and Protect scheme.

Speaking at First Minister's Questions, Ms Sturgeon told MSPs that 741 contacts have been traced between the scheme being launched on May 28 and June 7.

This followed the detection of 681 positive cases, including people tested at the UK-funded drive-thru sites.

Contact tracing is still ongoing in connection with 200 of these known cases.

Scott Heald, Head of Profession for Statistics at Public Health Scotland said the data would be analysed further in the weeks ahead "to present trends and geographical breakdowns".

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said contact tracers had followed up each new positive test to ensure that those who may have come into contact with the virus take steps to isolate.

"By doing so, we can break the chains of transmission while slowly changing lockdown measures," she said.

"The average number of people traced for each positive case reflects that we are still in phase one of lifting lockdown restrictions and people should not be mixing with large numbers of people outside of their own household."

It came as the latest report from National Records of Scotland put the death toll from Covid-19 in Scotland at 4000 by June 7, based on mentions in death certificates where the disease is suspected as well as confirmed.

However, the number of deaths also fell for the sixth week in a row, to 89.