COVID cases in Scotland were already rising in the week leading up to the new Beyond Zero freedoms, in what has been described as a “spillover effect” from restrictions easing in July.

The latest data from Public Health Scotland shows that the average number of positive cases by specimen date - that is, the date an infected individual submitted a swab for testing - climbed by nearly 10 per cent between August 2 and 8, the day before most Covid rules ended.

Professor Linda Bauld, chair of public health at Edinburgh University, said the increase could probably be traced back to July 19, when Scotland moved to Level Zero - enabling larger groups to socialise indoors - and England celebrated its controversial ‘Freedom Day’ by reopening nightclubs and scrapping requirements for facemasks and physical distancing.

HeraldScotland: Confirmed cases had been falling steadily since July 3 but this decline came to an end on August 2 (Source: Public Health Scotland)Confirmed cases had been falling steadily since July 3 but this decline came to an end on August 2 (Source: Public Health Scotland)

READ MORE: Warning over case rise in Highlands 

Prof Bauld said: “We’re definitely seeing a slight effect in England in terms of there being an uptick in cases - not big, but there has been an uptick after a bit of a dip.

“The 100,000 cases a day didn’t come to past but certainly over the last week or so you can see that there are some bigger numbers and that seems to me to be the effect of July 19 really kicking in.

“We [in Scotland] had a big football effect, then it settled down. But we did have some easing off of restrictions on July 19 before August 9.

“The bottom line is that everything we change in the system is about more households mixing, and even though August 9 is the biggest change with legal restrictions removed and particularly the reduction in distancing that people are really noticing on trains and buses, July 19 will still have had some slight effect.

"That’s probably what we’re seeing here.”

HeraldScotland: Most of the increase in cases in the past 30 days has been driven by a rise in infection rates among people aged 20 to 44 (Graphs by @travellingtabby)Most of the increase in cases in the past 30 days has been driven by a rise in infection rates among people aged 20 to 44 (Graphs by @travellingtabby)

Daily infection numbers, based on the seven-day average, had been falling steadily in Scotland from a peak of more than 3,300 on July 3, but bottomed out at 1,115 on August 2 and, by August 8 - the most recent date for which figures are available - had crept back up to 1,216, an increase of 9%.

It comes after Health Secretary Humza Yousaf warned on Sunday that the pandemic “is not over” and cautioned that the Scottish Government expected cases to rise as schools returned and people interacted more without social distancing.

Experts on the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) had previously warned that England’s decision to end all Covid curbs on its July 19 Freedom Day could push infections to 100,000 a day across the UK by August.

Instead, reported cases fell from a mid-July peak of around 48,000 to just over 26,000 by the end of the month, but since then have been slowly on the rise - reaching 28,000 by August 7.

HeraldScotland: UK cases overall are also now on the rise (Source: Public Health England)UK cases overall are also now on the rise (Source: Public Health England)

READ MORE: Covid deaths in Scotland rise by five in latest week

Prof Bauld said Scotland was likely to have experienced a “behavioural spillover effect” from England’s Freedom Day, underlined by a sharp increase in infections in the Highlands over recent weeks.

“People are travelling around the UK, so there is definitely a movement effect and if the rules are changing in England then people who come north might not necessarily be as cautious,” said Prof Bauld.

“You probably also have this behavioural spillover effect with younger people - and other age groups - going into one another’s homes more, and just not following the cap on numbers that was in place at the time.

“There was a very broad signal from media messaging around that ‘Freedom Day’ term, so I’m sure that’s played a part.

“But the key thing is that even if we’re starting to see a rise, the hospital numbers are still coming down and that’s the litmus test: will the rise that we see now translate into hospital numbers going up again in a week or so or not?

“You would hope not because the vaccines are having more of an effect.”

HeraldScotland: (Source: Public Health Scotland)(Source: Public Health Scotland)

The latest figures from Public Health Scotland show that there were 299 admissions to hospital for Covid positive patients in the week ending August 3 - the first time since June that the figure has dipped below 300.

To date, three quarters of adults in Scotland including 96% of all those over 50 and 83% of those aged 40 to 49 have been fully vaccinated.

The vast majority of cases - around 70% - are occurring in those aged 39 and under, with the recent increase in infections mainly linked to the 20 to 44 age group.

HeraldScotland: (Source: Public Health Scotland)(Source: Public Health Scotland)

READ MORE: Face covering rules 'required through winter'

Nearly one in four 18 to 29-year-olds and one in five people in their 30s in Scotland are still unvaccinated, with the latest PHS report showing that hospital admission rates for Covid are more than three times higher among unvaccinated individuals compared to those who have had both doses.

The rollout has now opened up to all teenagers aged 16 and 17, as well as higher risk 12 to 15-year-olds. To date, 793 of the 3926 children in this latter category (20.2%) have had a first vaccine dose.

There is also a push to increase the uptake of vaccinations among all freshers, staff and students returning to universities in September, with plans for NHS-run drop-in clinics at several campuses following concerns last year over outbreaks in halls of residence.

HeraldScotland: Professor Linda BauldProfessor Linda Bauld

Prof Bauld said: “The larger universities will definitely partner with the NHS to have drop-in vaccination centres on campus, which are open to all.

"Universities without an on-campus hub will signpost students to local drop-in centres. That will be integrated into the information for students returning to halls.

"International students who received vaccines not approved in UK, such as students from China with two doses of Sinovac, will also need a booster."

Meanwhile, ScotRail has said it does not expect its staff to challenge passengers who are not wearing face coverings on trains.

Operations director David Simpson said doing so put staff in a "very difficult position" but stressed that compliance was already "very high".

He added that passenger traffic was also back at 50% of pre-pandemic levels.