Coronavirus (COVID-19) update: Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport's speech - 29 January 2021

Statement given by the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport Jeane Freeman at a media briefing in St Andrew's House, Edinburgh on 29 January 2021.

Thank you again for joining us today. I will start with the usual update on today’s statistics.

The total number of positive cases reported yesterday was 1,155.

That represents 5.8% of the total number of tests, and takes the total number of confirmed cases in Scotland to 177,688.

337 of those new cases were in Greater Glasgow and Clyde, 207 in Lanarkshire, and 147 in Lothian.

The remaining cases were spread across 11 other health board areas.

I can also confirm that by 8.30am this morning, 515,855 people had received their first dose of the vaccine. 

1,958 people are currently in hospital – that is 25 less than yesterday.

144 people are in intensive care, which is an increase of two from yesterday.

And I’m very sorry indeed to report 70 additional deaths have been registered in the past 24 hours, of a patient who tested positive over the previous 28 days.

That means that the total number of deaths, under this daily measurement, is now 6,040.

The fact that more than 6,000 deaths have now been registered in our daily figures, is another distressing reminder of the toll this virus has taken.

Each and every one of those deaths has caused heartbreak to families, to friends, to loved ones, across the country.

And so once again, I want to send my sincere condolences to all of those who have lost a loved one during this pandemic.

I’m joined today by our Chief Nursing Officer, Professor McQueen, who will be helping me with the journalists’ questions, shortly.

Before that, though, there are a few issues I want to provide some updates on.

I want to start by saying something about the situation in the Western Isles, most of which is currently subject to Level 3 restrictions.

Six new cases of Covid were reported in the Western Isles today, and nine new cases were reported yesterday.

I know that might not sound like very many, but of course the population of the Western Isles is relatively small. So proportionally, these are high numbers.

In addition, as some of you may remember, these cases follow on from quite a high number of cases two weeks ago – including a significant community outbreak on Barra.

All of that is placing significant strain on hospital capacity in the Western Isles Health Board area.  In fact, the hospital in Stornoway has now reached full capacity.

So it is therefore vital that we do everything we can to stop community transmission.

For that reason, we are urgently examining whether the whole of the Western Isles will now move from Level 3 to Level 4.  Barra and Vatersay are already in Level 4, as a result of that recent outbreak in Barra.

That decision, on the whole of the Western Isles, will be taken today and would mean that everyone, like everyone in mainland Scotland,  must stay at home, unless for an essential purpose. While that consideration will be completed over the next couple of hours, I would urge people to please not wait:  please stay at home, whenever possible, and help your local National Health Service through this. 

There are three other issues I want to provide a brief update on.  The first concerns international travel.

As you know, it is currently illegal for anyone to travel to or from Scotland – without an essential reason.   

Even with an essential reason, anyone travelling from overseas will be subject to quarantine requirements.  And in most cases, they will have to have had a negative test result, prior to their departure. 

In relation to some countries, there are even tighter restrictions in place.  A travel ban has been applied to visitors from certain countries or places, where there is a heightened risk.

Last night, the Scottish Government, the UK Government, and the other devolved administrations – announced the extension of the travel ban to three additional countries, including the United Arab Emirates.   So for those countries, all travellers with no exemptions, will need to self-isolate. These requirements came into force at 4am this morning.

There will also be a ban on aircraft carrying passengers from United Arab Emirates.  This will apply from 1pm today.  Anyone who travels from the UAE to Scotland via a third country, and who is allowed to enter Scotland, will still be required to self-isolate for 10 days.

These measures are in direct response to concerns about the variant which was first identified in South Africa. And further information about them can be found on the Scottish Government’s website.  

However, it’s important to emphasise the basic message on travel remains unchanged.  Don’t – if you can possibly avoid it. That’s why it is illegal to travel to or from Scotland right now, unless it is for an essential purpose.

The second issue I want to touch on, is about Scotland’s testing capacity.

When we published our revised testing strategy in October, we set out plans to establish three regional laboratory hubs – for processing tests. 

Two of these NHS Scotland hubs opened in Glasgow and Aberdeen in December.  The third – based in Edinburgh – opened at the end of last week.  Once again, I’m grateful to everyone involved in setting them up – and operating them.

Together, the three hubs will increase NHS Scotland testing capacity to around 35,000 tests per day.  

And they will increase our total testing capacity – which includes Scotland’s share of the UK-wide Lighthouse programme – to more than 65,000 tests a day.

In addition, a new mobile processing laboratory has now been deployed in Aberdeen as part of that UK wide testing programme.

The mobile lab will process test samples from drive-through testing sites at Aberdeen airport and mobile testing units operating in Aberdeen and Dundee.  

And it should help reduce the turnaround time for test results in the north east of Scotland. 

Of course, as capacity increases, we are continuing to look at how we can make testing more accessible – particularly for people in remote and rural areas.

As part of that, we’ve been trialling a scheme in Highland and Argyll – which involves the use of fire stations as testing centres.

Two sites have been run in partnership with the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service.  And since 6 January, they’ve been operational from Monday to Friday, for three and a half hours each day. 

Following their initial success, I can confirm that these trials will be extended for a further month.  As a result, the two fire stations in Thurso and Lochgilphead will continue to be used for testing, until the end of February at which point we will evaluate how well that has gone, and look to see if we will expand it further. And I am very grateful to the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service for their joint work with us on this.

Anyone who has symptoms of the virus – and lives within driving or walking distance of these locations – can book tests by contacting NHS Highland.

By extending the trial, we’re trying to make testing as easy as possible for people in these communities.   And we will continue to look at how this model can be rolled out, across the country. 

My final update for today concerns the progress of our vaccination programme.

As of yesterday, around 96% of residents in care homes for older people had received their first dose of the vaccine.  68% of people over 80 and living in the community had received theirs.  And so we are well on track to complete the vaccination of both these two high priority groups, by early next week.

On Monday, two more mass vaccination centres will open at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre, and at the P&J LIVE in Aberdeen. You’ll remember of course that one mass vaccination centre is already operational, at the NHS Louisa Jordan in Glasgow.

Smaller vaccination centres are also opening across the country.  Many of these are located in community facilities such as village halls and sports centres. 

The opening of these new centres allow us to further ramp up the vaccination programme, now as we are meeting our initial targets. Everyone aged 70-79, and all extremely clinically vulnerable adults, should receive an invitation letter for a vaccination by the end of this week – and, subject to supplies, all of them will have received their first dose of the vaccine by mid-February. 

In addition, the scale-up of the mass vaccination centres in Edinburgh and Aberdeen, joining that one in Glasgow, means that invitation letters will start going out next week to 65 to 69 year olds – in Lothian, Grampian, and Greater Glasgow and Clyde health board areas. In other areas, planning is well advanced and letters will be sent out within the next two weeks, although we do expect most of those letters to be arriving in the coming days.

I want to take this opportunity to thank all of those who have been involved in setting up these new centres, and to thank all the staff who  are working so hard with us to administer, and to support the administration, of the vaccination programme.

Our vaccination programme is making good progress.  And we will continue to do everything possible to speed up its delivery.   

But at the same time, all of us must continue to do everything we can to slow down the spread of the virus.   And the way we do that is by following all the rules and the guidelines with no exceptions.

So I want to close today – as usual – by summarizing what those are.

The basic rule at the moment is: stay at home.

In any Level 4 area – which is almost all of Scotland, including all of the mainland – you must only leave the house for essential purposes: such as caring responsibilities, essential shopping, and exercise.

If you meet up with someone outdoors, you can only meet with one other person from one other household.

You must work from home if you possibly can – and employers have a legal duty to support people working from home. 

And on any occasion that you do leave your house, please remember FACTS.

  • wear face coverings when you are doing essential shopping;
  • avoid anywhere busy;
  • clean hands and surfaces;
  • use two metre distancing if you are talking to someone from another household
  • and self-isolate and book a test if you have symptoms.

Above all else, though, please stay at home as much as possible.

And please follow the spirit of the law, as well as sticking to the letter of the law.

Please don’t do as much as you think you can get away with – think instead about how you can minimise the meetings and the interactions you have, any one of which might allow the virus to spread.

That remains the best way of keeping ourselves, our loved ones, and our communities safe – and of keeping the virus under control, whilst the vaccination programme continues.

So please - stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives and thank you, to all of you, who doing just that.

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