THERE is "reasonable optimism" about Covid cases in Scotland during the run up to Christmas, with the Government's advisors saying infections appear to have "hit a balance". 

However, they cautioned that there is much more uncertainty about the path of the pandemic after the festive season, with forecasts ranging between a "substantial surge to minimal change", though they add that modelling has proved unreliable in the past.

The predictions are outlined in the latest minutes from the meeting of the Scottish Government's Covid-19 Advisory Group on October 14. 

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It comes just hours before First Minister Nicola Sturgeon will update the Scottish Parliament on Covid and, potentially, the expansion of the current vaccine passport scheme to leisure and hospitality venues from December 6. 

There are already signs that Covid cases have been declining in Scotland since November 14, following a surge linked to schools returning after the October break. 

HeraldScotland: Confirmed infections, by date of test, have been declining since November 14Confirmed infections, by date of test, have been declining since November 14

The advisory group minutes stress that the current phase of of the pandemic is "hard to predict", stating: "We seem to have hit a balance, but not a settled one - changes in behaviour are offset by a build-up of population immunity.

"There is reasonable optimism about the run up to Christmas, with hope for a slight improvement but much more uncertainty afterwards - predictions range from a substantial surge to minimal change.

"Projections are however based on the same family of models used in spring, which did not perform well - predicting a substantial summer surge that didn’t really arise."

READ MORE: Vaccine passports in Europe 'brought people back to hospitality'

The expert group voiced concern that while the highly-transmissible Delta variant is currently outcompeting other variants - even those with "immune escape" mutations - there is still the possibility that it could be overtaken by another strain. 

The minutes state: "While there was some reason to be optimistic, it was noted that there is room for evolution of the virus and we must not be complacent.

"Delta is currently outcompeting other variants with immune escape, but the virus had demonstrated significant evolutionary tendencies and new variants could change that.

"There is genuine scientific credibility about the possibilities for greater transmission – some existing variants are more transmissible than Delta.

"There was an acknowledgement that the UK was at a high equilibrium compared to the EU and there is the possibility of a ‘delta plus’ variant arising from high case rates, with the potential for vaccine escape."

The 'Delta plus' variant - also known as Delta AY.4.2 - is a sub-variant of Delta which made up 12% of UK positive samples in the week ending November 5.

The most recent evidence, published last Thursday by researchers at Imperial College London, indicates that it is more likely to cause asymptomatic infections and is around 10 per cent more infectious. 

However, they said it "does not appear to differ" from the original Delta in any serious way - such as causing more severe illness or being more resistant to vaccines, though its increased transmissibility could lead it to overtake its predecessor. 

The Scottish Government's Covid-19 advisors stressed that vaccinations remain the "main tool" for battling the pandemic, and that this must include a focus on "catch-up" vaccinations to immunise individuals who have never come forward for the jag at all as well as boosters to counteract fading immunity. 

HeraldScotland:

HeraldScotland: Scotland experienced a surge after schools returned in August but, in England, cases have been high but comparatively even since the end of JulyScotland experienced a surge after schools returned in August but, in England, cases have been high but comparatively even since the end of July

They also note the puzzle of why England has not experienced a significant surge in cases since the summer, in contrast to Scotland, despite the Scottish Government retaining restrictions such as facemasks and home-working where possible.

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They state: "Scotland and England have been in tandem for most of the pandemic but not since around the time of the Euros. Infections in Scotland peaked, then declined without intervention and are now plateauing.

"There is an unresolved question as to why England did not peak to the same extent. It may be because things are so delicate that small movements have produced big changes.

"High levels of infectiousness and high levels of vaccination is new territory but the infectiousness of Delta means that we cannot attain population [herd] immunity."

HeraldScotland: The spike in neonatal deaths in September is being investigatedThe spike in neonatal deaths in September is being investigated

The paper also noted that panel members Professor Aziz Sheikh, of Edinburgh University, and Professor Chris Robertson, of Strathclyde University, are to engage with the UK SAGE expert group regarding data on pregnancy and COVID-19.

The minutes note that "vaccination rates for pregnant women are low, with pregnant women sadly making up a significant proportion of those admitted to hospital with COVID-19", but added that there is also "little published evidence on vaccination during pregnancy".

It comes after an investigation was launched into an abnormal spike in neonatal deaths in Scotland during September, when 21 infants died within 28 days of birth.