Council leader Shona Haslam says the Borders is in a "very serious situation" amid rising coronavirus cases and the spread of the new strain.

The Borders had the second highest rate of infections across Scotland between December 28-January 3.

NHS Borders' medical director Lynn McCallum believes the rise in cases is “undoubtedly” due in part to the new strain, which appears to spread more easily.

Mrs Haslam, of the Conservatives, said the Borders is in a "very serious situation", adding: “This new strain is on the rise here in the Borders and whenever possible we need to stop, or at least minimise, our contact with other people."

By law, people are only allowed to leave their home for "essential purposes".

Dr McCallum expects the impact of the new strain on case numbers “to last for weeks”.

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“The increased rise in COVID-19 cases across the Borders in recent weeks is undoubtedly due, in part, to the spread of this new highly transmissible variant,” said Dr McCallum.

“It is important to remember that people who require hospital care as a result of COVID infection often present approximately two weeks after becoming infected; so we expect the impact of rising case numbers to last for weeks; particular as we start to see the effects of increased household mixing that took place over the festive period.

“We are working hard to maintain a level of routine services including all urgent, cancer and emergency surgeries – although a proportion of our outpatient services have been stopped in order to release medical staff to other wards.

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“We understand that people may be anxious about visiting healthcare settings whilst COVID-19 is circulating.

"Robust infection prevention and control measures are in place to keep our patients and staff as safe as possible, so if you do have an appointment please attend and remember to wear a face covering and attend alone unless you are unable to do so.”

The mutated strain of COVID-19 is thought to be up to 70 per cent more transmissible than the original version.

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Mrs Haslam said: “I realise this is a worrying time for us all but we will get through it, and you can help just now by staying at home as much as possible.

“As the number of positive cases continues to rise rapidly this will put council services under more pressure. 

“I would like once again to thank all our hard working staff, especially in health and social care who continue to face many challenges.”

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NHS Borders’ public health director, Tim Patterson, said: “Please follow the Scottish Government advice and stay at home.

“If you do not mix with people you cannot come into contact with the virus – it is as simple as that. 

“The actions we all take now will enable us to emerge from this very challenging period as soon as we can.”

The health board with Scotland’s highest rate is NHS Dumfries and Galloway, with 532 cases per 100,000.

NHS Borders says that the number of people requiring hospital admission who have tested positive for, or are presumed to have COVID-19, doubled last week compared to the week before.

A health board spokesperson added that there are now three dedicated COVID wards open in the Borders General Hospital, with "capacity to open additional wards as and when required".