CAUTION is being urged due to the increased risk posed by the presence of the new variant of COVID-19 within Dumfries and Galloway.
Cases of the B.1.1.7 variant were first identified on Christmas Eve, and its extremely high transmissibility is now suspected to be playing a role in a rapid increase in cases within Wigtownshire.
There are currently 64 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Wigtownshire. However, it is viewed that there potentially may be many more not yet identified, with daily testing being made available right through New Year.
The number of cases among staff and patients at Galloway Community Hospital has increased to 12, and regular testing is taking place within the hospital and in care homes.
The B.1.1.7 variant has also been identified elsewhere in the region, in lower Annandale.
B.1.1.7 is a variant of COVID-19 which is up to 70 per cent more transmissible, and which is viewed as being responsible for significant volumes of cases in south east England. However, it is now thought to be spreading rapidly across the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland, and may soon become the main cause of new infections.
This variant has 17 mutations, where the virus has changed, with some of these changes making it more infectious in lower doses.
Along with the rest of mainland Scotland, Dumfries and Galloway is now at Level 4 in the national COVID protection framework.
Interim Director of Public Health Valerie White said: “The region has suffered tragedies as a result of COVID-19, but has not been as badly affected as some other areas.
“However, if this new B.1.1.7 variant is quickly establishing a foothold then it has the potential to significantly alter the outlook for our region.
“It’s now more important than ever that everyone follows the national directions, including the FACTS guidance around wearing face coverings, hand hygiene, physical distancing and social interaction, and crucially around immediately self-isolating and arranging for a COVID test if we experience symptoms of the coronavirus, however mild.”