AN operation is under way to stop a Covid-19 flare up which appears to have begun in an English hospital taking hold in Scotland after a cluster of cases were identified in border towns.

Thousands of people living in Annan, Gretna, Dumfries, Lockerbie, Langholm and Canonbie must continue to follow the five-mile lockdown travel restriction despite the rule being lifted across the rest of Scotland from today.

Meanwhile, dozens of workers at two unnamed factories in Dumfries and Galloway are being tested to see if they have become infected with the virus as the health authorities try to stop its transmission in the community.

Jason Leitch, the National Clinical Director, yesterday told the daily briefing the first case to be identified in the cross-border cluster was in a Carlisle hospital and was likely to have spread following breaches of the guidance designed to control the virus.

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He said the initial case was a health worker in the Cumbrian town and that it may be connected to an outbreak of acquired infection at the hospital where the person worked.

A total of 10 people in Dumfries and Galloway and Cumbria have now been infected with the virus in the new outbreak.

"We have presently and this could change even as we are speaking ten positive cases and three high risk workplaces involved in this cluster," he said. "The initial first case and it may not be the index case. It is too early to say, but it is the first case that we were aware of is a health care worker from a Carlisle hospital and that may be connected to a nosocomial outbreak at that Carlisle hospital."

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He added more analysis would be needed to confirm the worker had been infected in the hospital. Mobile testing units have been sent to both factories in Dumfries and Galloway to test all staff, he said.

Leitch said: "Most clusters of this size, when the history is written, suggest the guidelines may not have been strictly adhered to. I don't know that for sure in this cluster. But that is usually what happens. So I would really implore you to obey the guidelines as best you can. If you follow them your risk is lower if you don't your risk is higher. It is as simple at that."

Dumfries and Galloway council leader Elaine Murray urged people not to travel to Carlisle while the five mile restriction was in place.

Dumfries and Galloway SNP MSPs Emma Harper and Joan McAlpine said: “Our best wishes for a speedy recovery go out to all those infected with this dreadful virus. While this is deeply unfortunate, everyone should be reassured that everything that can be done is being done to contain this outbreak by the Scottish Government and local public health officials.

“But our health protection staff also need everyone in the affected areas to do the right thing and strictly adhere to the necessary measures to prevent any further spread.

“It is particularly unfortunate that this outbreak has happened while the rest of the country takes some further small steps out of lockdown.

“But we trust the people of Dumfries and Galloway to stick to the rules so we too can get back to a more normal way of life as soon as possible.

“If that means cancelling a planned trip across the border to visit a beer garden this weekend it’s a small sacrifice to help protect each other.”

MP for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale David Mundell, and Dumfriesshire MSP Oliver Mundell, said in a joint statement: “We were grateful for a briefing from Jason Leitch and John Swinney on the current situation in Dumfries and Galloway.

“We believe the measures taken in the Annan/Greta area and surrounding postcodes are proportionate and appropriate in light of the local outbreak.

“Hopefully, the test and protect arrangements will be able to identify all those that could be affected and the outbreak can be contained quickly.

“We urge all those contacted to give as full information as possible as that’s the best way to minimise the risk to others.

“These arrangements will be temporary if the necessary progress can be made and will be reviewed on Monday if not earlier.”