IF the NHS "recovery" is measured in terms of returning to a pre-pandemic normality, then it is clear that recovery remains far off.

And yet, 2022 was supposed to be a year in which the re-mobilisation of elective care on the NHS took priority, with inpatient and day case activity in particular expected to ramp up to 10 per cent above pre-Covid levels.

Why then did the number of planned inpatient and day case procedures taking place in the first three months of 2022/2 remain 27% below pre-pandemic levels - and, in fact, marginally below the levels of the same time a year ago.

READ MORE: Fewer operations on NHS Scotland compared to same time in 2021 

The Scottish Government rightly notes that this period, from April to June, coincided with "the peak of the latest Covid wave", when staff absences and bed losses increased.

What this fails to address, however, is the unanswered question of how the NHS is supposed to "live with" Covid - let alone recover from it - when the Omicron waves keep coming.

HeraldScotland: The number of patients in hospital with Covid has been much higher in 2022 compared to 2021, causing knock on effects for staffing and bed resourcesThe number of patients in hospital with Covid has been much higher in 2022 compared to 2021, causing knock on effects for staffing and bed resources

The current Omicron BA.5 wave looks to be in decline now in Scotland, but infection rates have never dipped below one in 50 this year and the virus has evolved an uncanny ability to evade antibodies, the immune system's first line of defence.

As a result, vaccines and prior infection offer only weak and short-lived protection against infection.

The BA.5 wave was the third Covid wave in six months, and most scientists are already predicting a new onslaught of Covid in the autumn.

READ MORE: Australia flu resurgence could signal more bad news for NHS 

Australia's record-breaking flu season also serves as a sobering warning of what could lie ahead for the northern hemisphere.

Lockdowns were once enforced to "protect the NHS" from Covid in terms of critical illness; today most patients in hospital with Covid have mild symptoms, if any.

Yet the disease is grinding the system to a halt through health and social care staff absences, and through beds lost to delayed discharge and protocols to separate Covid and non-Covid patients.

This is unmanageable on top of long-standing and chronic workforce shortages.

In the short-term at least, there is a need to rethink how Covid is mitigated in hospitals - and how we can manage it in the community.