THE proportion of people infected with the coronavirus who go on to require hospital treatment has halved since the beginning of this year.

In an update to the Scottish Parliament exactly six months to the day since the immunisation programme launched across the UK, Nicola Sturgeon said there was growing evidence that vaccines are "weakening the link" between cases and serious illness.

READ MORE: Edinburgh's Covid case rate overtakes Glasgow 

The First Minister said the Government remains "optimistic that vaccination will allow us to move progressively to a less restrictive way of dealing with the virus", adding:

"It does appear that vaccines are reducing the proportion who require hospital treatment as a result of Covid.

"At the start of the year around 10 per cent of new Covid cases were admitted to hospital; over the course of May that was 5%."

She added there was also "encouraging evidence" that the length of time people were spending in hospital is also reducing.

HeraldScotland: First Minister Nicola Sturgeon in the Scottish Parliament, June 8 2021First Minister Nicola Sturgeon in the Scottish Parliament, June 8 2021

To date, just over 51% of the adult population in Scotland has been fully vaccinated with both doses, which is seen as crucial to suppressing infections caused by the new more transmissible Delta variant first detected in India.

According to figures from Public Health Scotland, there were 10,446 new positive Covid cases in people tested between May 1 and May 31, with 393 people admitted to hospital over the same period.

However, there is a typically a lag of around seven to 10 days between developing symptoms and becoming ill enough to require hospital care.

READ MORE: Hospital admissions double - but rise slower than during second wave

A further 47 people were admitted to hospital in the first two days of June - the most recent dates for which there is published data.

It comes as the UK's Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation considers whether to recommend vaccinating children aged 12 and older after regulators approved the Pfizer vaccine for 12 to 15-year-olds.

Ms Sturgeon said vaccination "may well be an important way of giving children greater protection, minimising any further disruption to schooling", but said she could not guarantee that all secondary school pupils would be inoculated by the end of the summer holiday in August.

"I can confirm that if the JCVI does recommend the use of the vaccine for children aged 12 and over, we will move as quickly as practically possible to implement their advice," said Ms Sturgeon.

"For the moment, however, we continue to focus on vaccinating all adults as quickly as possible."

ANALYSIS: Vaccines are breaking the link between cases and serious illness - but Delta variant could still overwhelm NHS

Concerns have been raised that the Delta variant is leading to an increase in disruptive infection outbreaks in schools.

Experts also believe that the fast-spreading strain can only be brought under control if around 83 per cent of the total population is fully vaccinated, compared to around 75% if the Alpha – or “Kent” – variant had remained dominant.

Vaccinating adolescents will help provide an extra buffer.

This is due to the Delta strain’s effect on the R number, which means that each person infected with the Delta variant can pass the virus on to an estimated six other people – assuming no social distancing or lockdown measures are in place – compared to around four with the Alpha/Kent strain.

To achieve herd immunity therefore five out of those six potential contacts – 83% – would have to be immune to the disease, ideally through vaccination.

Currently only 59% of the UK’s total population has had one dose, which offers around 33% protection against symptomatic disease caused by the Delta variant.

HeraldScotland: Graphs by @TravellingTabbyGraphs by @TravellingTabby

HeraldScotland:

Infection rates are rising most rapidly among younger age groups, especially those aged 20 to 24.

In this age group - who are mostly unvaccinated - cases were running at four per 100,000 people on May 1, but had climbed sharply to 40.2 per 100,000 by June 5.

By contrast, cases in the 65-74 age group have increased from 0.7 to 1.5 per 100,000 over the same period.