Good afternoon, and thank you very much for joining us today.
I am joined today by the Chief Medical Officer, Dr Gregor Smith – who will be helping me to answer the questions this afternoon.
Let me start with the usual update on statistics.
The total number of positive cases reported yesterday was 885.
That represents 4.4% of the total number of tests, and takes the total number of confirmed cases in Scotland to 195,839.
It’s worth noting that the Office for National Statistics has just published the latest results of the COVID-19 Infection Survey for Scotland.
The survey concludes that the positivity rate in Scotland declined in the week beginning 6 February. It estimates that – last week – 1 in 180 people in Scotland had Covid.
That is the lowest estimated level of infection of any nation of the United Kingdom.
It provides a further indication that the lockdown restrictions are having their desired effect. And it underlines why it’s so important that we stick with them.
Returning to today’s figures, 267 of the new cases were in Greater Glasgow and Clyde, 166 in Lanarkshire, and 163 in Lothian.
The remaining cases were spread across nine other health board areas.
1222 people are currently in hospital – that is a decrease of 39 from yesterday.
98 people are in intensive care, which is an increase of 3 from yesterday.
And I’m very sorry to report that 31 additional deaths have been registered in the last 24 hours, of patients who first tested positive over the previous 28 days. That means that the total number of deaths, under this daily measurement, is now 6,916.
Every single one of those deaths is a tragedy, and I want to send my condolences once again, to all of those who have lost a loved one to Covid.
I can also provide more details on our vaccination programme.
As of 8.30am this morning, the total number of people in Scotland who have received their first dose of the vaccine is 1,386,152.
That is an increase of 31,186 since yesterday.
We have now offered first doses to all over-70s, all care home residents, all frontline health and care workers, and all people with a serious clinical vulnerability.
Take up rates in all of those categories have been exceptionally high. However I want to stress that if you are in those categories, and have not yet been vaccinated, then you can still get your first dose.
74% of 65 to 69 year olds have now received a first dose, which means we continue to be on course to offer a first dose to everyone in that age group by early March.
Once again I want to thank everyone involved in delivering the vaccination programme - and everyone who has thus far received their first dose.
The main issue I want to focus on today is the return of education.
As you know, Monday will see children returning to early learning and childcare, and to primaries 1 to 3. In addition, a very limited number of senior phase students will return to secondary school, for essential work which is required for national qualifications, and which can only be done within school.
I want to take this opportunity to thank all those who are working hard to prepare for this return – that of course includes teachers, childcare providers, school staff and school leaders. Your efforts are hugely appreciated by me and by the Scottish Government.
This partial return of education is an important milestone. And there are two specific points I want to make about it today.
The first point concerns testing in schools.
As senior phase pupils, teachers and school staff start to return, we will be making at-home lateral flow tests available to them, twice a week.
Pilot testing programmes have been running in a small number of schools, in recent weeks. And we are using what we’ve learned from this, to roll the programme out across the country.
As part of that, we have been working closely with the UK Government to get test kits into schools. This process has obviously been affected by the severe weather that we’ve experienced in recent days.
However, I can confirm that around 2,500 schools have now received testing kits. And we expect any remaining schools will receive their allocations either today or early in next week.
On Tuesday, we issued comprehensive testing guidance to schools and to local authorities.
And we are working with YoungScot to provide online information and support for senior phase pupils who want to take part in the testing programme.
This first phase of testing will include childcare staff based in schools. We are currently working through the practical arrangements for rolling out testing to childcare staff working in other types of nursery settings. And we will provide further details on those arrangements very soon.
Testing in schools is entirely voluntary – but I would encourage staff and pupils to take the tests, if you are offered them. The use of testing is a very important addition to the other safety mitigations which are already in place.
Of course, the evidence suggests that the key risk in re‑opening schools isn’t transmission within schools and nurseries - but the greater contact it leads to, among the adult population.
That brings me to the second point that I would like to make this afternoon.
Parents and carers also have a really important role to play, in making the return of education a success.
For example, if you have been working from home up until now, please continue to do so – even if your children are back at school or nursery. Your employer has a legal obligation to support you in doing that.
Don’t use this return as an opportunity to meet up with other parents or friends.
And as a general rule, if you find that you are meeting up with more people than you were before, once your children have returned to school, then think about why that is. All of us should be minimizing our social contacts right now.
In addition, when you are out of the house – at the schools gates for example - please remember to follow the FACTS advice.
For all of us, that advice is perhaps more important now than ever before. We’re now dealing with a much more transmissible form of the virus. So we need to respond accordingly – by making it even more difficult for the virus to spread.
That’s why the Scottish Government is launching a new campaign – to highlight the importance of the FACTS advice and all of the other rules and guidelines. It emphasises the need for all of us to stay on our guard, even as our vaccination programme is rolled out.
So I want to take this opportunity to quickly run through the five golden rules of FACTS – and why they’re so important:
- The first is face coverings. In enclosed spaces, face coverings help to protect you, and those around you. And remember, ahead of next week, face coverings should be worn by parents and carers, when collecting or dropping off your children from school.
- Avoid crowded places. Covid thrives in a crowd. So by avoiding these kinds of situations, you minimize the chance of spreading the virus.
- Clean hands and surfaces – good hand hygiene and regular cleaning remain really important. If you are leaving the house, take hand sanitizer with you – or use it wherever it is provided.
- Two metre distancing from members of other households. You should always physically distance from other households. Again, that’s maybe especially important to remember as some schoolchildren return. For parents and carers, for example, you should remember to physically distance when you are walking to school or nursery, and when you’re dropping off or collecting your children.
- And finally self-isolate and book a test if you have symptoms. That is how we identify cases – and stop the spread. If you are identified as a close contact of someone who has Covid, you also need to book a test, and to self-isolate for ten days.
By following each of these points, we can help to make this initial return of education a success. And we can help to keep each other safe, as the vaccination programme does its work.
However, I want to emphasise that the basic rule at the moment remains the same. Right now, all of us should be staying at home.
In any level 4 area – that of course includes all of mainland Scotland – you must only leave the house for essential purposes.
You cannot meet up with other households indoors.
And if you meet up with someone outdoors, you can only meet with one other person from one other household.
These restrictions are really difficult – and I don’t underestimate that for a moment. But crucially, they are working.
Case numbers are coming down – so too are hospital admissions.
We need to see that trend continue – and so it’s vital that we continue to stick with the restrictions.
That is how we keep the virus under control.
And it’s how we give ourselves the best chance of returning - more quickly - to some form of normality.
So please continue to do the right thing.
Stay at home, protect the National Health Service and save lives.
And my thanks go once again, to everyone who is doing that.
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