NICOLA Sturgeon has told Holyrood the next few days will be "crucial" in the government's assessment whether to reintroduce Covid restrictions.

The First Minister pointed to a record increase in cases of the virus in the last 10 days with the number of people in hospital more than doubling in that period as she stressed the infection levels must come down.

Figures published just ahead of her statement revealed 629 people with Covid were in hospital - the highest number since March 8 this year when 654 were in hospital with the virus. At that time much of Scotland was under lockdown with hospitality, non essential shops and schools closed and travel bans including to other parts of the UK in place.

"What is inescapably the case is that we must turn the corner and see the sharp increase in cases level off and then come down," she told MSPs.

READ MORE: Scotland is now taking a 'different' approach to Covid, John Swinney says

"Let me now explain why that is so important. On Friday 20 August, there were 312 people in hospital with Covid. Today, there are 629.

"The number of people in intensive care has risen more slowly - but it has risen. On 20 August it was 34 and today it is 59."

"If the recent surge in cases was to continue – if, for instance, we were to see cases continuing to rise to 10,000 or more a day, something I hope won’t happen, but is by no means impossible – that will have serious consequences.

"A lot of people will fall seriously ill. Some will die. And the NHS will come under even more severe pressure."

She added: "To reiterate, this is a matter of basic arithmetic. At the start of the year, daily reported cases peaked at around 2,600 and at that time - pre vaccines - around 13% of cases were ending up in hospital.

"Today, only around 2 to 3% end up in hospital. But 2 to 3% of 10,000 cases a day will cause similar pressure on our NHS as 13% of 2,600.

"And this pressure is building at a time when many staff have been flat out for more than 18 months, and when the NHS is working to deal with the backlog of other cases which has been caused by the earlier waves of the pandemic.

"So the situation we face just now is serious. We must stem the rise in cases."

She said it would not be responsible for any government in the face of the virus to rule out re-introducing any restrictions and said it would be "grossly irresponsible" to do so.

However, she said she did not want to re-impose restrictions, even in a limited way knowing that restrictions cause harm to businesses and children's education

She added: "But if that is to be avoided - as I hope it can be - it will take all of us making a conscious and concerted effort again to comply with all the basic mitigations that we know can slow down transmission."

Scottish Government figures published today recorded 6170 daily cases, up from 3,893 on Monday.

The figures remain below the record high of 7,113 on Sunday, but numbers of patients in hospital have continued to rise.

READ MORE: Covid in Scotland: More than 6000 cases and nine deaths recorded on September 1

The latest figures represents a positivity result of 11.5% of the 57,279 new tests for the disease. This puts Scotland's test positivity rate at more than double the 5% theshold which the World Health Organisation says indicates the virus is under control.

On vaccinatiing 12 to 15 year olds, she told MSPs: "As members are aware, we still await advice from the JCVI on vaccinating all 12 to 15 year olds and I very much hope the evidence will allow it to give a positive recommendation very soon. We stand ready to implement it immediately if that is the case."

The latest update comes after Finance Secretary Kate Forbes announced on Tuesday she is self-isolating for 10 days after a family member tested positive. She said as she had her second vaccination under two weeks ago, she must self-isolate for the full 10 day period.

On Monday, the First Minister said she would no longer self-isolate having tested negative, after being told on Sunday she was a close contact of an infected person.

Under the current rules in Scotland, close contacts and children are able to end isolation if they are symptomless, have returned a negative PCR test and if they have been double-vaccinated for at least a fortnight.

READ MORE: Covid Scotland: Top expert says restrictions must be brought back to curb virus

But anyone who does not meet those criteria must isolate for 10 days from the point an infected person developed symptoms, regardless if they have symptoms themselves or test negative.

A number of public health experts have warned curbs to prevent the spread of the virus, including limiting numbers at large scale events, will need to be re-introduced.

The upsurge has particularly affected schools with figures released earlier today by Public Health Scotland recording that 38.1% of school pupils who tested positive for Covid-19, passed the virus on to at least one other pupil, based on assumed class contact tracing by their having 10 or more contacts.