SCOTLAND is now "through the worst of this wave of Omicron", with the number of patients in intensive care with the virus falling to levels last seen in summer.

Nicola Sturgeon said the country is now "on a good track", although baseline measures including masks, vaccine passports, and advice to take lateral flow tests before socialising remain in place.

Ms Sturgeon said these were "basic precautions" which would help to keep virus rates down as normal life resumes and avoid the highest risk individuals being forced into "effective isolation".

The First Minister confirmed that the Scottish Government will publish its strategic framework setting out how Covid will be managed over the longer term on February 22.

READ MORE: Tories publish alternative Covid roadmap calling for end to 'blanket restrictions'

It is expected to set out the future of measures such as testing, self-isolation, vaccination, vaccine passports and masks, as well as the circumstances under which additional restrictions including physical distancing may be reintroduced. 

A decision on whether or not to extend requirements for face masks in secondary schools will be taken before pupils return to classrooms following the February break. 

Updating the Scottish Parliament, Ms Sturgeon said: "After almost two years of this ordeal, I know getting back to normal for short periods followed by further disruption to our lives, is not what any of us want.

"A return to normal that is sustained is what we want and are striving for. That is what the updated Strategic Framework will be aiming to support."

The Herald: Cases based on PCR and LFD combined have plateaued since mid-JanuaryCases based on PCR and LFD combined have plateaued since mid-January

Daily cases - based on PCR tests and self-reported positive lateral flow results - are now "broadly stable" at around 6000-8000 per day, while the number of patients in ICU with a recent positive Covid test has fallen to 18 - on a par with numbers seen last June.

Infections in the under-15 age group - which were previously rising despite an overall decline - have fallen by more than a quarter in the past week. 

Ms Sturgeon added: "The situation now remains much more positive than it was at the turn of the year - and thanks to a combination of vaccinations, targeted protective measures and the responsible reaction of the public, it is much more positive than we feared it might be at this stage.

"It seems reasonable based on the data to conclude that we are now through the worst of this wave of Omicron."

The Herald: ICU admissions and occupancy for Covid patients has fallenICU admissions and occupancy for Covid patients has fallen

It comes as Scottish Conservatives set out their own agenda today in a 'Back to Normality' policy paper, calling for an end to face masks in schools, further cuts to the self-isolation period, and the scrapping of mass contact tracing in favour of random sampling. 

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Ms Sturgeon also confirmed that a total of 103 cases of the faster-spreading BA.2 Omicron subtype have now been detected in Scotland - up from 26 a week ago - although she cautioned that this will be a "significant underestimate" since only a minority of cases are sequenced. 

The BA.2 strain can be distinguished from the main Omicron BA.1 variant currently in circulation in Scotland based on the presence of a marker known as the S-gene dropout: this shows up positive in BA.2 cases, but not in BA.1.

In countries including Denmark and India, BA.2 has become the dominant form of Covid, and it is increasing in prevalence here too.

READ MORE: How worried should we be about the BA.2 Omicron variant?

"In the past week there has been a further increase in the number of PCR test results showing positive for the S gene and a corresponding fall in the number which don’t have the S Gene," said Ms Sturgeon.

"This is likely to reflect an increase in BA.2 cases which, like Delta, are S Gene positive. In cases of the main Omicron variant, the S Gene is absent.

"Encouragingly, there remains no evidence at this stage that the disease caused by the BA.2 subtype is any more severe than that caused by the main Omicron variant.

"Nor does it appear to be any more capable of evading the immunity conferred by vaccination or prior infection.

"However there is evidence, from more than one country now, of a growth advantage for BA.2 compared to the main Omicron variant, which may mean it is more transmissible.

"All in all, however, there are no grounds at this stage for any significant concern about BA.2 - and no reason to change our approach in response to it. We will, though, continue to monitor it carefully."