NICOLA Sturgeon has warned of the possibility of taking "targeted and proportionate" action to stem the spread of Covid as cases continue to surge.

The First Minister once again did not rule out the need to bring back restrictions as she revealed the daily infection figures had reached their highest level since the pandemic began last year.

Figures published just ahead of her statement revealed 883 people with Covid were in hospital - the highest number since early March this year.

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.

"Cases are still rising, week on week, and they are currently at their highest levels since the start of the pandemic," she said in a statement to Holyrood this afternoon as she noted that part of the reason for the high number could be significantly higher numbers of tests being conducted.

But she added: "The levels of infection across the country – albeit that we may be seeing some potential and very welcome signs of stabilisation – remain far too high.

"That is why we must continue to monitor the situation very closely and be prepared – as any responsible government must be – to take any targeted and proportionate action that we consider necessary to keep the country as safe as possible."

Scotland moved to the lowest level - Level 0 - of the restrictions framework in July and most remaining curbs were eased on August 9. Face masks continue to be mandatory in shops and on public transport.

The First Minister warned Holyrood last week that the coming days would be crucial in the government's assessment about what action to take and whether curbs would be reintroduced.

Today she said that while vaccination had "significantly reduced the link between cases of Covid and serious health harm from Covid", she had to take account of the rising number of people in hospital with the virus and the pressures on the NHS and the need for staff to catch up on treatment backlogs.

She said: "Our current case numbers reflect the fact that the Delta variant is significantly more transmissible than previous strains of the virus – just as much as vaccines have been in a good way, Delta has been a game changer in a very bad way.

"And so, of course, even a much lower percentage of a very high number of cases will – indeed, already is – put intense pressure on the NHS.

"We can see the evidence of that very clearly in the latest data on hospital and intensive care admissions and occupancy – though we must remember that there is a time-lag between case numbers and hospital admissions...In the 7 days to last Friday, 785 people with Covid were admitted to hospital. That is an increase of almost 50% from the week before when 530 people were admitted. As a result, hospital occupancy has also risen sharply.

"On Friday 20 August, there were 312 people in hospital with Covid. Today, there are 883. 

"The number of people in intensive care has also increased – from 34 on 20 August to 82 today.

"And of course these figures don’t include other forms of serious illness – for example people who don’t require hospital treatment, but suffer long Covid.

"So that inescapable fact remains – if we don’t see the rate of increase slow further and then fall, many more people will become seriously ill. And, sadly, some of them will die.

"And the NHS will come under pressure even more severe than it is already dealing with. And the pressure it is already dealing with – and this point simply cannot be overstated – is already very severe.

"So we cannot – and must not – let up in our efforts to stem this current wave of cases.

"We continue to hope that – and indeed as I have been outlining, recent data gives us a bit more of a solid basis for this – we can turn the corner through continued care and caution and stringent compliance with existing mitigations and without having to re-introduce any tighter restrictions."

She said everybody and every business would be required to help ensure curbs were not brought back by wearing face coverings, using stringent hygiene, having good ventilation and working from home where possible.

"This is making a difference – and, while we cannot rule anything out completely, it is also reducing the likelihood of restrictions having to be re-introduced," she added.

Her update comes as MSPs are set to debate and vote on the introduction of coronavirus vaccine passports in Scotland. Ministers have argued their introduction at the end of this month which would see people attending large scale events, including going to nightclubs, may help prevent the return of wider restrictions.

In the last 24-hour period 17 people have died from coronavirus while 5810 new cases had been identified.

To date 4,130,841 people have received the first dose of the Covid vaccination and 3,749,767 have received their second dose.

Earlier, the latest statistics released today by the National Records of Scotland (NRS) show that as at September 5, more than 10,600 coronavirus-related deaths have been registered in Scotland.

The new figures released state that 10,612 deaths have been registered in Scotland where Covid-10 was mentioned on the death certificate up until September 5.

These statistics differ from the figures released daily by the Scottish Government, which do not include “suspected” or “probable” Covid-19 deaths.

In the week of August 30 to September 5, 58 deaths were registered that mentioned Covid-19 on the death certificate, an increase of 10 deaths from the previous week.

Of the total, 17 people who died were aged under 65, 12 were of people aged 65-74 and 29 were over 75. Thirty four people who died were male and 24 were female.

There were 10 deaths in Glasgow City and six each in North Lanarkshire and City of Edinburgh. Forty two people died in hospital, eight in care homes and seven at home.

Pete Whitehouse, Director of Statistical Services, said: “Today’s NRS figures show that there were 58 deaths in Scotland last week where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate, an increase of 10 deaths on the previous week.

“Deaths from all causes were 19% higher than average for this period in 2015 to 2019, and this is the fifteenth consecutive week in which deaths from all causes exceeded the average.”