Nearly one in six police officers in Scotland were off work on Friday as the coronavirus crisis hit the force hard.

The Daily Record has learned that Police Scotland is having to cope without a record number of staff.

While some of the 2700 officers absent on Friday were on annual leave, the vast majority were self-isolating at home with Covid-19 symptoms.

However, it is understood that only two officers had tested positive for the virus by the weekend.

At full strength, Police Scotland can deploy 17,254 officers, backed up by some 5600 civilian staff and more than 500 special constables.

That means almost 16 per cent of officers were off on Friday – at a time when they are having to help enforce the nationwide lockdown.

A well-placed source said last night: “This is a massive struggle but the feeling is that we are coping well with the help of the general public.

“The vast majority of people have responded very well to what is being asked of them.

“Another bonus is that crime is down – including domestic violence, which had been a concern. How do you keep a woman safe while isolated in her home with a violent partner?

“Fortunately, we haven’t seen any spike in that regard.”

Police officers in Glasgow city centre amid the coronavirus pandemic

The source added that more than 70 per cent of police officers reporting for duty were being deployed on the streets to make sure people were following lockdown rules and to offer a reassuring presence to the public.

He said while new legislation was put in place to allow officers to enforce the rules, Police Scotland would do all it could to maintain order through education.

He added: “You don’t want to cause resentment or create barriers by throwing fines and fixed penalties around.

“You want people to realise this affects all of us and the rules are there to keep all of us safe.”

The source revealed some unnecessary pressures police have faced in recent days.

He said: “In one case, officers had to go and remove the body of an old man last week because the undertakers refused to handle him. He’d had cancer but he had been coughing a lot before his death.

“They refused to handle his body, so police officers were called to take him to the mortuary.

“Undertakers know to handle bodies with care, out of respect for the deceased and to avoid possible infection. There was no need to treat this body any differently and we can’t afford any repeats because there is no spare capacity.

“We have never seen anything like this. There are contingency plans for all sorts of things – like our IT systems going down for a day, for fire, flood, explosions in a school or a workplace – but there were no contingency plans for this crisis.

“All agencies involved are having to learn on the job, and it is a really sobering thought that we are now having to prepare for an inevitably huge rise in the number of deaths in Scotland, and the peak could be two or three weeks away.”

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It was reported yesterday that the Scottish Government will be setting up seven large refrigerated mobile units, normally used by
the military, around the country to create capacity for about 1000 extra bodies.

Locations have not yet been finalised but it is expected that the units will be placed alongside major hospitals.

Police Scotland said it was not releasing current staff numbers for operational reasons.

Deputy Chief Constable Malcolm Graham added: “We have a duty to keep our workforce safe and are providing advice to officers and staff, based on the guidance from the UK and Scottish governments.

Police on bikes patrol the streets in Glasgow

“There is no doubt that our officers and other emergency service colleagues play a crucial role to protect our communities.

“However, any of our officers or staff who show symptoms of coronavirus, or who fit the other criteria for isolating, will be required to follow the guidance.

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Coronavirus in Scotland

“I am grateful to all our officers and staff, who continue to deliver an absolutely first-class service in these unprecedented and challenging conditions, for their continued dedication, hard work and support.”

Asked about the temporary mortuaries, a Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We are involved in detailed planning, along with the UK Government and other devolved administrations, to ensure that all necessary provisions are in place to cope with the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic.”