Health chiefs say they are “optimistic” Level 4 Covid measures are already working to “blunt” the surge of the virus in north-east Covid cases.
An average of 167 positive cases were discovered each day over the last week, with a high of 216 on January 7.
This has, however, marked a drop from the average of 230 per day recorded earlier in the month – including a spike of 335 on January 5.
At a meeting of the NHS Grampian board yesterday, members were given an overview of how the service is coping amid the pandemic.
As of Wednesday, there were 113 people across the Grampian area in hospital with confirmed coronavirus. A further 15 were in intensive care.
The number has almost doubled in the space of a month. On December 10 there were 61 patients in hospital for Covid-19.
The board also heard that the current need for services is well above what was experienced at the beginning of the pandemic.
At the peak of the first wave of the disease, there were 89 people in hospital.
However, looking at the data, the health board’s director of public health, Susan Webb, said there are early positive signs emerging.
“We’re optimistically hoping we’ve seen a blunting in the rise in cases,” she said.
On Boxing Day, all of mainland Scotland was placed under Level 4 coronavirus restrictions, limiting the number of people who can meet at one time and prohibiting some businesses from operating.
Six further changes to health guidance, relating to the likes of click-and-collect and takeaway services, will come into force tomorrow.
NHS Grampian medical director Nick Fluck said new coronavirus data is pointing to a “tentative plateauing” of the number of positive cases.
And after shutting down many services when the pandemic first hit last March, he said the health board’s operations are much closer now to a “typical winter”.
The board formally approved NHS Grampian’s winter surge plan yesterday, of which parts have been in operation since the start of November.
Several different response levels have been set out, with “trigger points” identified for when the service will need to move up or down a tier to prevent becoming overwhelmed.
This initially included provision of 50, 100 or 150 beds for Covid patients, with further “escalation decision points” also laid out.
Dr Fluck said the plan had to be amended in light of the recent surge and new disease variants, with the maximum capacity now higher.
He said: “Wave one was unusual and it was a different time in terms of the public response and our response locally.
“We turned down a lot of services and that led to a substantial decrease in presentations.”
It is unclear exactly what caused a “staggering” drop in people arriving at emergency departments.
Dr Fluck added: “We’re still not really sure how much that was due to individuals who became ill with Covid instead of something else, or if it was a genuine reduction because people weren’t doing activities that triggered something, or people who were putting up with symptoms when they shouldn’t have been.
“This is looking much more like a typical winter at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary and the big difference is emergency patients are coming in to the hospital.
“Whether that’s because of a behavioural response, or the usual winter accentuation of illness, or if we’ve managed to get the message right that we’re still open for business for acute patients.”
The board also fielded questions regarding the ongoing vaccination programme.
About 150 venues across the north-east are being used to offer Covid-19 inoculations, with P&J Live in Aberdeen this week announced as one of them.
On Wednesday, Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said the entertainment and exhibition venue will be one of several large-scale mass vaccination centres capable of delivering 20,000 jabs per week.
Yesterday the NHS Grampian board heard around 3,000 north-east care home residents have received their first of two vaccine doses.
This equates to approximately 90% of all those living in such facilities across Grampian.
Across the region, more than 23,000 doses have been administered.
Ms Webb said the benefits are already being seen and added: “Anecdotally, when we are seeing Covid come into care homes, we’re now seeing a reduction in the severity of its impact.”
North-east Labour MSP Lewis Macdonald called the news “a ray of hope” and added: “It’s important that all care home residents and staff are vaccinated this month, both to keep them safe and to allow them to have family visitors again as soon as possible.
“The loss of family contact has been even more painful for many older people than the fear of infection, and only when visits start again will care home residents feel the nightmare is over.”
Scottish Conservative MSP Alexander Burnett praised the roll-out progress and called for it to be progressed even faster.
“NHS Grampian deserves great praise for its work in getting 90% of care home residents vaccinated in the north-east.
“We all want to see the delivery of this vaccine succeed so we can defeat the virus as quickly as possible.”