AT the very beginning of the pandemic in Scotland, the sheer volume Covid cases quickly outstripped our testing capacity.

By the time the country was going into lockdown in March 2020, people with potential Covid symptoms were being told to isolate as a precaution - but PCR tests were being rationed to hospital patients, healthcare staff and, later, to care homes and other key workers.

Ramping up the country's testing and contact tracing infrastructure was seen as key to lifting lockdown while keeping a lid on the virus.

By the middle of June 2020, anyone with symptoms could access a test.

However, incidence was comparatively low - meaning that demand was too - and only around 4000 tests a day were being processed.

READ MORE: Self-isolation and testing rules changes amid 'tsunami' of Covid cases

Since then, the arrival of the increasingly transmissible Alpha and Delta waves has squeezed testing resources. However, restrictions on mixing also helped to curb transmission.

Now, despite the massive increase in testing infrastructure (70,000 PCR results were reported yesterday alone), we face a similar predicament to March 2020: the virus is once again overwhelming the system.

HeraldScotland: The number of PCR Covid tests being carried out has surged since the Omicron variant took off The number of PCR Covid tests being carried out has surged since the Omicron variant took off

This is due to various factors.

The sheer transmissibility of Omicron - infecting one in 20 Scots by the end of December - is one, with its spread aided by far fewer restrictions.

We also now have lateral flow kits, meaning asymptomatic members of the public have been detecting infections at home and then booking PCR slots previously only taken up by people with symptoms.

The first change, then, will see community PCR tests once again limited to key workers and those with cold-like illness.

READ MORE: Sturgeon drawing up framework for 'less restrictive' Scotland

The other problem is isolation.

Nicola Sturgeon has signalled moves towards "less restrictive" measures in future, so what might that mean?

People are not expected to quarantine at home with colds and flu so, at some point, Government-mandated self-isolation for Covid will also be a thing of the past.

That is not an imminent change - but at some point self-isolation will probably be dropped for asymptomatic positive cases, especially if they are fully vaccinated (however that is defined) and therefore less likely to transmit.

HeraldScotland: Nearly 5,500 NHS staff were absent for Covid-related reasons in the the week ending January 4, including 3000 nurses and midwives - the highest since May 2020Nearly 5,500 NHS staff were absent for Covid-related reasons in the the week ending January 4, including 3000 nurses and midwives - the highest since May 2020

This is the other crucial difference from where we were in March 2020. Now, 77 per cent of adults have had a booster or third dose; 84% of Scots aged 12 and over are doubly vaccinated; the vast majority of people have been vaccinated, infected, or both.

The risk of infection remains; but it is not what it once was.

Increasingly, mitigations such as isolation are doing more harm than good through the disruption to businesses and, more critically, from spiralling absences in health and social care services.

The changes to testing and isolation are, in essence, another step towards "living with" Covid.