THE number of people testing positive for coronavirus in Clackmannanshire is around five times higher than it should be, officials have said.

Dr Graham Foster, NHS Forth Valley's director of public health, said that some progress was made in addressing those numbers but it has stalled in recent days.

Last month, the health board singled out the Wee County as an area of concern given the high number of people testing positive.

And, speaking to the Advertiser about recent case numbers on Monday, November 16, Dr Foster said: "The situation in Clackmannanshire, that was quite high.

"It has improved dramatically, but it's improved in so much as coming down to the same level as Falkirk.

"It's stopped coming down in the past few days."

Turning to the effect level three restrictions imposed on the area on November 2 have had, he said: "It's taken the top off the peak, but not enough for it to come down.

"The rate in Clackmannanshire is about five times higher than it should be."

He added: "That rate is far too high."

The level three restrictions imposed locally – and across the wider Forth Valley area – include a ban on in-home socialising, and the closure of leisure and entertainment venues.

While he acknowledged they have had an effect across the wider Forth Valley area, as well as Clacks, Dr Foster said: "[The restrictions are] broadly similar to the increased measures that we had since October 9.

"The problem is the level of cases and rate of cases in Forth Valley is still far too high, and it's not showing signs of coming down.

"I think we do need to think about that, and we need to do something different.

"We can't keep carrying along with the high level we have got."

However, Dr Foster said the final decision around whether a move to level four restrictions is necessary was for others to make.

But, he did outline his concerns about other areas moving into a higher level while Forth Valley remained in level three.

He said: "The big worry is if Glasgow and Lanarkshire go into a higher level, people will then come out to places in Forth Valley to get around restrictions."

Dr Foster said if that were to happen, Forth Valley would end up "suffering from people escaping level four".

Another area of concern Dr Foster touched upon was a recent increase in social gatherings.

He said: "It's now that point in time when we're really seeing the impact of what people were doing on Halloween and Bonfire Night.

"Unfortunately, we did see quite a lot of parties and gatherings, and we are starting to see that.

"We had a really bad weekend, and lots of schoolchildren who are positive."

Given that children have been back at school for several weeks, he said: "I don't think they got infected at school."

Dr Foster also touched upon a general lack of awareness in Forth Valley around how bad the situation was as a key issue.

He said: "The important thing some people don't seem to be getting is we have a really high rate of cases in the community.

"There are more cases out and about in the community now than there have ever been during the whole pandemic.

"It's worse than it's ever been."

The effect of that lack of awareness of the general situation is being felt across all age groups.

Dr Foster said that people were being told to go off of work to isolate, and children were being sent home from school.

The health service in Forth Valley is also feeling the effects of the high number of people testing positive in Forth Valley.

Dr Andrew Murray, medical director, who also took part in Monday's media briefing, said: "When Covid was starting, half of our beds were empty because people were accessing healthcare differently and we shut down a lot of services."

Referring to acute medical care, he added: "We are now, I think on a day-to-day basis, up around 90 per cent [capacity] sometimes."

Both Dr Foster and Dr Murray agreed the only sure way to stop the virus from spreading in Forth Valley was for people to follow the basic advice.

That includes wearing face coverings while out and about, avoiding crowded spaces, and absolutely sticking to a two-metre distance from others.

Hands should also be cleaned regularly, and anyone with symptoms should book a test and self-isolate.