AN INVESTIGATION has been launched into a cluster of Covid cases affecting Dumfries and Galloway and north-west England.

Scotland’s national clinical director, Professor Jason Leitch, revealed that “a number of cases” - believed to be linked - had been detected around Gretna and Annan as part of a wider cross-border outbreak.

NHS Dumfries and Galloway later confirmed there had been nine new cases since Monday, the first time the region has had any new cases since June 22.

It comes amid controversy over whether Scotland should quarantine visitors from the rest of the UK if there was a risk that they could import cases and undermine attempts to eliminate the virus north of the border.

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Prof Leitch said: “It’s a complex but small cluster captured in different testing areas: in a hospital testing site, in a mobile testing unit, and in a drive-thru testing centre.”

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon added that the spike in cases was enough to “trigger a concern and a process of investigation”.

An incident management team of infection control experts from Scotland and England were meeting this afternoon to review the situation, and contact tracing has begun to track down anyone who could may been exposed to the virus.

Prof Leitch said: “There is sufficient testing capacity in the health board to carry out all appropriate testing, and we will send mobile testing units if they require to be deployed.

“That includes any necessity to provide testing at individual workplaces."

On Monday, Ms Sturgeon said she could not rule out asking tourists from England and Wales to quarantine for 14 days or face fines if it was "required from a public health perspective”.

Leicester was plunged into a local lockdown on Monday night after 80 new cases were reported in two weeks, forcing shops and schools to close and derailing plans for pubs and restaurants in the city to re-open this weekend.

Residents have been banned from travelling outwith the city cordon except for essential purposes.

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Ms Sturgeon has said Scotland is "close to eliminating" the virus, with just 68 new cases reported in the past week and hospital admissions averaging three per day compared to 200 at the start of April.

One new death was confirmed in the past 24 hours.

England has been easing lockdown faster than Scotland, however, leading to questions about whether Scotland should effectively "close the border" if cases start to climb again significantly in England and Wales.

The suggestion has been condemned by Marc Crothall, chief executive of the Scottish Tourism Alliance, who warned that more than 70 per cent of Scotland's tourism comes from the rest of the UK.

He said English holidaymakers are already asking about a "full refund" for Scottish staycation bookings in case of quarantine.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson also branded the idea "absolutely astonishing and shameful" during yesterday's Prime Minister's Questions, adding that there was "no such thing as a border between England and Scotland".

Ms Sturgeon responded by branding Mr Johnson's comments "absurd and ridiculous".

She added: "What there definitely is, is a geographical boundary to my powers as First Minister.

"If the Prime Minister is questioning that now, I'm not sure what he would say if I pitched up in Newcastle and started to try to implement Scottish Government policies in Newcastle."

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It came the latest report from National Records of Scotland showed that the overall number of people dying in Scotland has now returned to normal levels for the first time since March.

In the week ending June 28, there were 1,006 deaths registered - 20 fewer than the five-year average for the same week. Of these, 35 were linked to Covid.

Meanwhile, Public Health Scotland said rates of extended perinatal deaths - stillbirths and neonatal deaths combined - “are being closely monitored” after they reached the warning limit in May, for first time in three years.

There were 21 stillbirths and 12 deaths among newborns.

PHS said infant mortality during the pandemic could be an important indicator of "maternal health and well-being" and "how maternity services are provided".

Stillbirths and infant deaths are relatively rare events in Scotland and therefore prone to chance fluctuations. 

HeraldScotland: rates of stillbirths and neonatal deaths combined (PHS)rates of stillbirths and neonatal deaths combined (PHS)

As a result, a warning limit of 8.4 per 1000 births is set to detect a potentially unusual increase while a control limit of just under 10 per 1000 triggers investigation. The warning limit was last breached in May 2017.

PHS said: “Rates of stillbirths and extended perinatal deaths are being closely monitored, as these approached, but did not breach, the upper warning limit in May 2020.”

Emma Currer, of the Royal College of Midwives, said: “Scotland’s maternity services reacted quickly to the pandemic to keep as many services going as possible and to ensure safe care for women and their babies.

"Of course, any still birth or neonatal death is a tragedy for those families and it is important that we look at all of them to find out why it has happened."