Health officials have once again urged people in the Scottish Borders to stay at home - as the region continues to see steep rises in confirmed case numbers of Covid-19.

The number of patients requiring hospital admission who have tested positive for, or are presumed to have Covid-19, doubled last week compared to the week prior.

NHS Borders has confirmed that many of these cases are the new variant strain of the virus, which is highly contagious.

The Scottish Government earlier published data showing that there were 2,013 confirmed positive cases of Covid-19 in the Borders since 7 March 2020, marking an increase of 508 cases since Wednesday 30 December 2020.

This means the Borders currently has one of the highest rates in Scotland of positive cases per 100,000 (over seven days) at 439.8 - which officials have called a "very serious situation."

However, health bosses have reassured communities that there are always "peaks and troughs" in demand for health and social care services, and confirmed there are now three dedicated Covid wards open in the Borders General Hospital - with remaining capacity to open additional wards as and when required.

Medical Director Dr Lynn McCallum said: “The increased rise in Covid-19 cases across the Borders in recent weeks is undoubtedly due, in part, to the spread of this new highly transmissible variant. It is important to remember that people who require hospital care as a result of Covid infection often present approximately two weeks after becoming infected; so we expect the impact of rising case numbers to last for weeks; particular as we start to see the effects of increased household mixing that took place over the festive period.

“We are working hard to maintain a level of routine services including all urgent, cancer and emergency surgeries. Although a proportion of our outpatient services have been stopped in order to release medical staff to other wards.

“We understand that people may be anxious about visiting healthcare settings whilst Covid-19 is circulating. Robust infection prevention and control measures are in place to keep our patients and staff as safe as possible, so if you do have an appointment please attend and remember to wear a face covering and attend alone unless you are unable to do so.”

Dr Tim Patterson, Director of Public Health, added: “We are in lockdown across mainland Scotland. Please follow the Scottish Government advice and stay at home. If you do not mix with people you cannot come into contact with the virus – it is as simple as that. The actions we all take now will enable us to emerge from this very challenging period as soon as we can."

Councillor Shona Haslam, Leader of Scottish Borders Council, added: “This is a very serious situation. This new strain is on the rise here in the Borders and whenever possible we need to stop, or at least minimise, our contact with other people. I realise this is a worrying time for us all but we will get through it, and you can help just now by staying at home as much as possible.

“As the number of positive cases continues to rise rapidly this will put council services under more pressure. I would like once again to thank all our hard working staff, especially in health and social care who continue to face many challenges.

“Our Community Assistance Hubs will continue to operate to support those in critical need and co-ordinate support across a range of partners and community groups. Anyone in need of help and support can contact their local hub through 0300 100 1800.

“Schools also remain open for children of key workers and invited young people, and we will again be able to use our world-leading Inspire Learning programme to support online learning for our young people throughout the region.”

NHS under 'greatest pressure' in borders area.

HeraldScotland:

Nicola Sturgeon earlier said the NHS was under “greatest pressure” in the Borders area.

Speaking at her daily coronavirus briefing, the First Minister added: “At this stage people need to prioritise limiting the spread of this virus, and if we think as a Government that we need to go further in terms of the regulations and the legal restrictions, we will do that, because we have to cut interactions sufficiently to stop this virus spreading.

“If it takes more tough decisions… then that is what I will do.

“Because we see from case numbers, death numbers, pressure on our health service that we can not allow this virus to run away from us, the consequences of that are just too great.”

With hospital numbers rising again during winter – traditionally the busiest time of the year for the health service – Ms Sturgeon said: “The NHS is coping but… it is under severe and increasing pressure.”

Wintry weather in recent days means accident and emergency staff are having to deal with cases of people falling and slipping on ice, as well as the impact of Covid-19.

Ms Sturgeon said: “Every single person who gets infected with this virus is someone who might need hospital care in future – the more all of us stay at home and reduce the opportunities for the virus to spread, the more all of us help the NHS cope.

“Stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives. That is now just as important as it was last March and I ask everybody to take it just as seriously as all of us did back then.”