Around two-thirds of all new cases in Scotland are found to be from the new, faster spreading mutant variant of coronavirus, Nicola Sturgeon confirmed yesterday.

The First Minister made the revelations during her announcement to the Scottish Parliament, confirming an extension of lockdown restrictions until mid-February. 

She pointed towards “encouraging” signs that current rules were working in slowing down the spread of the virus, however it was important “firstly to be cautious”. 

What is different about the variant?

Ms Sturgeon said the new highly contagious variant of coronavirus, which is believed to have first emerged in Kent in September, is now the “dominant” form in Scotland.

She said aroudn two-thirds of all new cases come from the new variant.

This mutant strain is thought to be up to 70% more transmissible, with scientists advising the UK Government in December that it could drive the R number by around 0.4 points.

The variant can be detected through PCR testing by looking for a "proxy marker" in the virus' molecular code, known as the S-Gene dropout.

Although not exact, it provides a good estimate of the variant's prevalence within the overall coronavirus circulation.

What did the First Minister say?

Speaking to MSPs, the First Minister said: “In the week to 14 January, there was an average of around 1900 confirmed new cases per day. This is an 18% reduction on the previous week. 

“Test positivity has also declined slightly, as has the number of cases per 100,000 of the population. 

“And while the new, faster spreading variant is now the dominant one in Scotland, the proportion of new cases with the S Gene dropout indicative of it appears to have stabilised at around two-thirds. 

“All of this is encouraging and a signal that the lockdown restrictions are working.”

However, Ms Sturgeon added that we need to be “realistic” in realising that any improvement in figures is a result of the current stay at home restrictions.

She said: “Any relaxation of lockdown while case numbers, even though they might be declining, nevertheless remain very high, could quickly send the situation into reverse. 

“And that would further accelerate and intensify pressure on the NHS. 

“As we have learned throughout this pandemic so far, the incubation period and infectious path of this virus, means that pressure on the NHS, in numbers being hospitalised and requiring intensive care, continues to increase for a period even after cases start to decline.”