The Health Secretary has said plans to deal with a possible winter surge of coronavirus cases are “well under way”.

Jeane Freeman said Scottish NHS boards have been told to keep extra capacity ready in intensive care units (ICU) and other wards.

She was quizzed about the Scottish Government’s plans for a second wave of cases at the daily coronavirus briefing yesterday.

The Health Secretary said: “The planning for autumn and winter is well under way in the NHS in Scotland, including discussions with our colleagues in social care.

“Our boards have been advised to hold a capacity to deal with an upsurge in Covid-19 cases both in beds and in ICU.

“We’re also factoring into that the infections and viruses that come with winter, flu and other respiratory conditions.”

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She added: “We cannot assume that our NHS will not have to deal with significant increases in Covid-19 cases, both in the hospital setting or in the primary and community care setting.

“We will position ourselves best to deal with autumn and winter the lower we bring infection numbers down right now.”

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the more immediate risk is a resurgence of the first wave of coronavirus.

She mentioned the US state of California, which has reimposed lockdown restrictions after a spike in cases.

The First Minister said: “The real risk now is that the first wave takes off again.

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“That’s our immediate priority, to stop that happening – which is important for its own sake – but it’s also important in making sure that we don’t go into the winter months with infection levels still at too high a point.”

Scientists have warned that a second wave of Covid-19 infections could be more serious than the first, with 120,000 hospital deaths in a “reasonable worst-case scenario”, scientists advising the UK Government warned in a new report.

The report, from 37 scientists and academics, acknowledges there is a high degree of uncertainty about how the Covid-19 epidemic will evolve over the coming months, but sets out a “reasonable worst-case scenario” that would see the R rate rise to 1.7 from September.

The R refers to the number of people an infected person can be expected to pass the virus on to.

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The academic modelling suggests there could be a peak in hospital admissions and deaths in January and February 2021, similar to or worse than the first wave in spring 2020. It does not include deaths in the community or care homes.

The figures do not take account of the UK Government intervention to reduce the transmission rate, or the use of the drug dexamethasone in intensive care units, which has been shown to cut deaths.

Professor Stephen Holgate, a Medical Research Council clinical professor of immunopharmacology who led the study, said: “This is not a prediction, but it is a possibility.

“The modelling suggests that deaths could be higher this winter.

“With low numbers of Covid cases at the moment, this is a window of opportunity to help us prepare for the worst that winter can throw at us.”