The smallest increase in Covid-19 hospital numbers since Christmas has been recorded in Scotland.
Giving the latest coronavirus figures during the Scottish Government’s daily briefing, Deputy First Minister John Swinney said 2,004 people are in hospital with the virus, up one in 24 hours, and 161 patients are in intensive care – an increase of five since Wednesday.
Hospital numbers have steadily increased in recent weeks, with the previous smallest figure being on December 25 when a drop of 35 was recorded.
The R number in Scotland – the average number of people infected by each person with Covid-19 – is now estimated to be around 1 and has “probably fallen during the last week”, Mr Swinney added.
But the figures also show 89 more deaths from coronavirus have been recorded in the past 24 hours, and 1,636 positive tests.
It brings the death toll under this measure – of people who first tested positive for the virus within the previous 28 days – to 5,468.
Mr Swinney said the figures show the current lockdown measures are “at the very least helping to stabilise case numbers”.
But he added the number of infections occurring remains “concerningly high”.
He stressed lockdown restrictions are “vital”, adding: “They are the single most important way in which we can reduce case numbers and ease some of the pressure on our health and social care services.”
Mr Swinney also announced more support for childminders – many of whom have been seen their businesses suffer as a result of coronavirus restrictions.
He said up to £1 million of Scottish Government cash is being used to help those who have been financially affected, adding that childminders will be able to apply for grants of up to £1,000 each.
“Childminders play a hugely important role and the work they do is valued and appreciated by families across the country,” he said.
“This new fund will provide them with some of the support they need in order to continue to carry out that role.
“That is something that will be increasingly important as we emerge from lockdown and as more parents return to work.”
The Deputy First Minister also said three new walk-in testing centres are opening in Scotland this week.
One opened in Paisley on Tuesday, he said, with further sites beginning work in Dunfermline and Glenrothes later on Thursday.
He said each of the new centres can perform up to 300 Covid-19 tests a day, and they take the total number of walk-in sites to 28.
“They will help to increase the accessibility and effectiveness of testing,” Mr Swinney added.