NHS Highland has appealed to communities across Highland, Argyll and Bute to work even harder to curb the spread of Covid-19 after a significant increase in cases.

Health bosses blame pre-Christmas socialising and indoor mixing over the festive period for the upwards of 700 coronavirus since Christmas eve - with particularly alarming increases in Inverness, Beauly, Dingwall, Invergordon, Alness and Caithness.

The spike in cases over the last two weeks has left health officials pleading with locals to adhere to new national guidelines and refrain from mixing with other households. 

READ MORE: Cases, deaths and hospital admissions: The latest coronavirus data for your area

Dr Ken Oates, NHS Highland Public Health Consultant, began by thanking everyone for their efforts.

He said: “Firstly, thank you so much for all your support so far. We recognise that 2020 was an extremely challenging year for everyone and that we all have made significant sacrifices to reduce the spread of COVID-19 cases as much as possible.

“Unfortunately, there has been a significant increase in case numbers across Highland in the last two weeks, particularly in Inverness, Beauly, Dingwall, Invergordon, Alness and Caithness.

“We believe that this is due to pre-Christmas socialising, combined with people mixing indoors over the festive period. This has led to many extended family clusters and we would once again encourage people not to mix with others outside your household, as this is driving up infection rates.

HeraldScotland: Multiple graphs relating to Scotland's coronavirus statistics.

“Please adhere to the new national guidance issued earlier this week to stay at home.

The rising number of cases has been having a detrimental effect on NHS services - as well as on the health and wellbeing of the most vulnerable in the Highland communities.

He added: "We appreciate how challenging this has been for many people, however when the number of cases of COVID-19 rises in our communities, we inevitably also see an increase in positive cases in health care workers and care home staff."

“We must all take action to protect each other and the NHS across Highland, Argyll and Bute. Please continue to follow the national guidance on COVID-19 including isolating at home if you feel unwell in any way, and seeking a COVID-19 test.

“COVID-19 will spread rapidly if given the opportunity, especially with the new strain which spreads much more easily. We are asking that everyone thinks about the risks that are involved in increasing the number of people you come into contact with and to please follow the rules to help us in reducing the spread of the virus.”

It comes as Scotland has recorded 68 more Covid-19 deaths and more than 2,000 further cases of the disease in the past 24 hours.

The latest daily figures showed that a further 2,039 Scots have tested positive for coronavirus – 10.5% of those who were checked.

As well as the 68 deaths, official figures showed that 95 people were in intensive care in hospital with the disease – up two from the previous day.

Overall, hospitals reported having a total of 1,384 coronavirus patients, an increase of 37.

The data showed new cases of the disease were recorded in every health board area of Scotland, with the exception of NHS Western Isles.