THE Delta Covid variant will "rush through the vaccinated and un-vaccinated' if the public does not maintain measures such as masks, social distancing and testing, a health board leader has said.

Dr Boyd Peters, Medical Director for NHS Highland, said wearing a face covering was symbolically letting others know: "I am protecting you".

The health board warned yesterday that the region's biggest hospital -Raigmore- had reached capacity due to rising community cases and increased numbers of staff self-isolating and on leave.

Boris Johnson is expected to confirm he is confident the majority of the remaining Covid restrictions in England can be lifted from 19 July.

I wear my mask so that if I get Covid and this is day one, I'm not going to breathe it over anyone else while I get tested

Making face masks voluntary and ending 1m-plus social distancing and QR code sign-ins at restaurants will be among his press conference announcements.

READ MORE: Highland hospital in rare 'code black' capacity crisis as community cases soar 

The next scheduled update from First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is expected on Tuesday, July 13 when she will confirm whether Scotland will continue on the timetable previously laid out.

Last week Ms Sturgeon urged Scots to act with care and not become complacent after a “steep rise” in cases due to the Delta strain of the virus.

NHS Highland saw 1300 cases in June, almost a third of the total number since the start of the pandemic.

The health board has been forced to cancel all non-urgent surgery and the majority of outpatient appointments while emergency patients were told to expect long delays.

Dr Peters said other boards were facing similar pressures.

He said Raigmore  "did not have much Covid" but that all hospitals were running closer to capacity because of a slowing down of the entire system and efforts to resume elective procedures services.

"We don't have much Covid going on in the hospital at all, it's the Covid system rather than the hospital numbers that is the issue," said Dr Peters.

"Some of those cases are contacts of people who work in the NHS. That impacts on the service.

"Although the UK government is letting things relax, the higher price for that is that more people in the community will get Covid.

"The Delta variant is massively more infectious than the original Covid and we are all getting these freedoms. 

READ MORE: Scots Covid advisor Devi Shrider fears lockdown easing is 'an experiment' 

"The more the public maintain voluntary actions, maintain the social distancing, keep wearing face coverings, keep getting tested and the government gives us access to tests.

"Because actually we will see the virus rush through the un-vaccinated and the vaccinated.

"I wear my mask so that if I get Covid and this is day one, I'm not going to breathe it over anyone else while I get tested.

"I care about people and that's why I wear a mask.

"Thank goodness the Delta variant wasn't around last year when we didn't have the vaccines, that would have been a real problem."

He said the NHS will need to make large scale changes to deliver a service that will continue to be impacted by the virus over the next few years.

He said: "If I as a doctor was doing something before Covid, it took x amount of time, the processes were y and z. The way it happens now, is that there is  additionality - you have to put on and take off PPE, patient flow is different because you can't have lots of people milling about the building.

"Everything has slowed down and that applies to hospitals, GP practices and care delivery services.

"In effect, it has put all boards on a different status and footing and means that you run closer to your ultimate capacity than we would have done two years ago."