Frontline NHS staff who have spent nearly a year treating the north-east’s sickest Covid-19 patients say they are “angry” over the spread of false information about the disease.
Consultant Lee Allen and nurse manager Helen Paddon work in critical care at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, where only the most severely ill patients are treated for the virus.
Since the pandemic took hold early last year, they and other workers have seen first-hand the damage coronavirus can do.
On some occasions, they have treated their own colleagues, and the number of people in hospital during January rose to nearly 150% of last spring’s peak.
However, the health service has also had to contend with false information about the virus, which Lee and Helen admitted can be “really detrimental” to efforts to bring it under control.
Public figures including politicians, singers and former footballers have also been accused of spreading misinformation and conspiracy theories, including claims official figures on the number of people in hospital had been exaggerated.
Lee said: “It [misinformation] makes me feel really angry. Fake news seems to be a growing problem.
“With the availability of social media, misinformation can spread rapidly and for something as damaging as Covid, it can be really detrimental, particularly when it comes from politicians or other figures of authority.
“Sometimes I think people try to be provocative.
“But I can vouch that hospital cases are as high as I have seen them and the system is under pressure.
“I think it’s really irresponsible to be making those statements when they are not founded in fact.”
She said: “Two weeks ago we were into our third area of critical care. We effectively had three intensive care units for a few days because of the increase in patient numbers.
“People have to be very careful about what they believe if it has not come from a trusted source.”
Cameron Matthew, deputy chief officer for acute at the hospital, warned public figures to check their facts.
And he suggested those spreading misinformation could join doctors and nurses on the front line to experience the reality.
He said: “I think they need to be very careful about how they present the information they are presenting, and they need to seek the information from people who know about it.
“They can come and ask us, and we will show them. We can give them the lived experience of this.
“We see pictures of empty corridors in hospitals – there will be empty spaces because we are not letting anyone in who doesn’t need to be there.
“We also physical distancing in place which means there will be less people in some areas. We are not immune from this disease and we have to put in as many mitigating factors as possible.
“If the people spreading false information want to come and spend a shift with us that would be absolutely fine.”
Meanwhile, more than 500,000 people in Scotland have now received their first dose of the Covid vaccine.
In the latest figures announced by the Scottish Government, 515,855 residents have been given the first dose.
Across the north-east, there were 64 new Covid cases recorded over the past 24 hours.
Scotland’s total increased by 1,155, with the test positivity rate sitting at 5.8%.
Three Covid deaths were also registered, two in Aberdeen and one in Moray.
The death toll in Scotland increased by 70, meaning the total number is now 6,040.
NHS Grampian’s total number of cases now sits at 12,325.
Across Scotland, there are 144 people in intensive care with recently confirmed Covid and 1,958 in hospital.
The number of patients in hospitals has decreased by 25 over the past day.