Dumfries and Galloway has seen its highest weekly coronavirus death toll since the pandemic began.
Twenty people across the region lost their lives as a result of Covid-19 last week.
The news comes as health board boss Jeff Ace revealed hospitals in the region remain under huge pressure despite positivity rates having fallen.
And Deputy First Minister John Swinney yesterday highlighted the rapidly changing situation in the south west and the “challenges that the national health service faces”.
During the coronavirus briefing, Mr Swinney said: “It wasn’t so long ago that ministers were agreeing for Dumfries and Galloway to have restrictions relaxed for justifiable evidential reasons.
“We then found ourselves with the onset of the new variant and in a situation where cases in Dumfries and Galloway were galloping away from us at an alarming pace, resulting in the type of congestion that Jeff Ace has talked about at the hospitals in Dumfries and Galloway.
“That case illustrates the pressure on the NHS but also the necessity for the restrictions that we have put in place.”
Weekly figures from National Records of Scotland show there were 20 deaths in Dumfries and Galloway between January 11 and 17. The previous highest weekly figure was 12 in March last year.
It takes the total coronavirus deaths in the region in 2021 to 24 and to 104 since the pandemic began.
A further four residents have died as a result of a coronavirus outbreak at Stranraer’s Thorney Croft Care Home, taking the total there to 10.
NHS Dumfries and Galloway have revealed there were 432 positive cases in the region in the week ending January 17, down from 561 the week before.
The number of close contacts told to isolate also fell from 862 to 774. The positivity rate has also fallen from 13.5 per cent to 9.2 per cent – but Mr Ace urged caution.
He said: “It seems wrong when we’ve had such a great public response and when numbers are dropping to then ask people to go further and do more – but it really is vital that they do.
“What we’re seeing just now is proof that people hold the power to affect the trajectory of this regionwide outbreak. The truth is, what happens in Dumfries and Galloway is down to every one of us, individually, and our actions.
“Even with this fall in numbers it will take time for that to translate into fewer cases needing urgent treatment. And if we level out at these current rates, it’s going to be incredibly difficult to sustain, or to see an immediate path out of lockdown – as cases would likely take off again from a far higher starting point than when this outbreak began.”
As of yesterday, 75 people were in hospital in the region with 13 in intensive care.
A further 57 people tested positive, taking the number of cases in 2021 to 1,629. Since the pandemic began, there have been 3,334 positive test results in the region.
During yesterday’s briefing, Scotland’s National Clinical Director Professor Jason Leitch said there were “green shoots of hope” for the region.
Although the case rate is “well above” the Scottish average, it was “testament to the people of Dumfries and Galloway following the rules” that it had fallen.
He added: “Bringing that number down depends on each and every one of you thinking as you open the door ‘Do I actually have to open it?’.”