HOW bad is the situation facing our hospitals and how does this ‘second wave’ of Covid compare to the first?

And crucially, are the restrictions put in place so far making any difference to the spread of the virus?

These are questions worth asking since tomorrow marks exactly 14 days since licensed hospitality was forced to close across the Central Belt and curbed everywhere else in Scotland.

That is also believed to be the maximum incubation period for the Covid infection, so after 14 days - if the measures are working - we should expect to see a slowing in the number of new cases, followed by declines in hospital admissions.

Changes to testing make fair comparisons between the prevalence of the virus now compared to March impossible.

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Looking at Covid hospital admissions, however, these were averaging 58.3 per day when lockdown was announced on March 23 and continued to rise to a peak of 184.9 on April 6, exactly 14 days later.

Deaths where Covid infection had been confirmed by a test peaked at a seven-day average of 53.9 per day on April 12.

HeraldScotland: Covid hospital admissions from March 1 to October 17Covid hospital admissions from March 1 to October 17

The latest data from Public Health Scotland only goes up to October 17, when admissions were averaging 77.3 per day, but if the current interventions are working we should see hospital admissions peak tomorrow (approximately) and begin declining next week.

There is already - potentially - some evidence that the latest restrictions are having some effect on cases.

For example, in the seven days to September 25, when a 10pm curfew for pubs and restaurants came into effect, there were 2,742 cases of Covid detected in Scotland.

HeraldScotland: Covid cases in Scotland up to October 20. The graph is influenced by a fall in tests being processed at start of week, but there are still signs of a slowdownCovid cases in Scotland up to October 20. The graph is influenced by a fall in tests being processed at start of week, but there are still signs of a slowdown

The curfew appeared to have a limited effect as two weeks later, in the week ending October 9 - the date licensed hospitality was forced to close altogether across the Central Belt - 6,346 cases had been identified, an increase of 131 per cent.

In the past seven days there have been 8,218 positive cases reported - an increase of 29% compared the week prior to the new restrictions being introduced, but a considerably slower acceleration than we were seeing previously.

It is impossible to say how much of this is directly down to the hospitality curb as opposed to the indirect psychological effects on the population, however.

People interpret closures of pubs and restaurants as a signal that public health is now in serious jeopardy.

Bans on household visiting, which carry little economic consequence, or 10pm curfews - seen as tinkering around the the edges - simply do not hold the same sway.

As a result, closing hospitality venues - something reminiscent of the original lockdown - is more likely to have an indirect effect by spurring the public to behave more cautiously.

It has also coincided with clear signs that the virus was beginning to spread out of control, such as rapid increases in hospitalisations and deaths, which serve to jolt the public to attention.

READ MORE: We're arguing over lockdown versus herd immunity when we should be focusing on test, trace and isolate

So how bad is the picture in Scotland currently compared to the 'first wave'?

Worryingly, there has been some sign that the virus is seeping back into care homes, where it wreaked such devastation earlier in the year.

In the week to October 18, there were 12 Covid deaths in care homes, according to National Records of Scotland (NRS) figures which are based on confirmed and suspected infections.

That is the first time since late June that it has crept back up into double digits, but it remains a very far cry from April when there were regularly over 300 care home deaths per week linked to the virus.

Excess deaths so far in this 'second wave' also remain well below what we saw first time around, when Scotland's rate was one of the worst in Europe after England and Spain.

Since the beginning of September, there have been 97 deaths more than normal, but73 of these were Covid deaths.

In contrast, the first seven weeks of the pandemic from mid-March resulted in 3,759 excess deaths - of which 2,802 were Covid, but 957 were not.

There are currently 873 people in hospital in Scotland with a recent Covid diagnosis - and it will likely increase as more are admitted and others take a long time to recover - but that compares to a peak of 1,520 on April 20.

There are 79 Covid patients in intensive care, but our baseline capacity is 173 and our surge capacity (extra ICU beds which can be deployed at short notice) is up to 585.

This time, the NHS is trying to balance Covid care and elective, but we know that some patients have seen their operations cancelled as beds were set aside for Covid influxes or wards closed by outbreaks.

As recently as August, NHS was still only scheduling half the elective procedures it normally would.

Once this second wave is subsides, the priority for policymakers should be improving test, trace and isolate - not inventing new tiers of restrictions - or else we will simply find ourselves endlessly repeating these disruptive lockdown and release cycles.