Thanks for joining us again today.
Before I move on to today’s update on Covid, I want to say just a few words about the dreadful events that took place last night in the Kilmarnock area.
I am very sorry to say that two people were killed in the attack – which took place at the University Hospital Crosshouse and at Portland Street in Kilmarnock. A third person died in a subsequent road traffic incident and Police Scotland believe these three deaths were connected.
My thoughts are very much with the families and friends of those individuals.
A tragedy like this would be impossible to understand at any time. But after the events of the past year, it is particularly shocking that it has happened at an NHS hospital.
An investigation is of course ongoing. However, Police Scotland have confirmed that the hospital at Crosshouse is secure – and it is safe for patients and staff to go there.
So for now, I simply want to thank the police officers and all of the medical staff who were involved in the response to this incident for all that they contributed, and I want to express my sympathy to the staff at the hospital for the trauma they are having to come to terms with. Again, I send my deepest condolences to the families and friends of those who have been killed.
Let me turn now to the usual update on the Covid statistics.
I can confirm that the total number of positive cases reported yesterday was 895.
That represents 4.9% of the total number of tests, and takes the total number of confirmed cases in Scotland to 184,313.
This is the second day in succession where the positivity rate has been below 5%, which is the World Health Organisation's definition of a pandemic under control. This is very encouraging news.
We also had the news yesterday that the R number is now between 0.7 and 0.9 - comfortably indicating the R number is now below one, representing further the progress that is being made.
1,794 people are currently in hospital – that is 18 fewer than yesterday.
123 people are in intensive care, which is a decrease of four from yesterday.
And I’m very sorry to report that 61 additional deaths have been registered in the last 24 hours, of a patient who first tested positive over the previous 28 days. That takes the total number of deaths, under that measurement, to 6,383.
Every death from this virus is a source of grief and heartbreak. And so I want to send once again my condolences, to all those who have lost a loved one during this pandemic.
I am joined today by our National Clinical Director Jason Leitch, who will be helping to answer the journalists’ questions.
Before that, there are three issues I want to update you on. The first is about the progress of our vaccination programme.
I can confirm that as of 8.30 today, 742,512 people have received a first dose of the vaccine.
That is an increase of 48,165 from the number we reported yesterday. That is a further record number of vaccinations in one day and is in fact double the number of vaccinations that were reported last Friday.
We have vaccinated 99% of residents in older care homes; and 93% of all care home residents.
92% of over 80-year-olds living in the community have now received their first dose of the vaccine. Work is underway to ensure we increase this number as far as is possible, and to complete the complex task of reaching those who are housebound.
I can also report that 47% of 75 to 79-year-olds living in the community have been vaccinated with the first dose. And 16% of 70 to 74-year-olds have also received the vaccine.
It means we are well on track to ensure that all over 70-year-olds, and all adults who are especially clinically vulnerable, will be vaccinated with the first dose, by the middle of this month.
This is very good progress – the uptake figures are especially encouraging. So I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone involved in administering the vaccines. I also want to thank everyone who has received the vaccine, so far.
We are of course continuing to look at ways in which we can speed up the vaccination programme. And we’re also trying to find ways in which we can make it easier for people – in all parts of Scotland – to get vaccinated.
As part of that, the Scottish Ambulance Service has been trialing a new scheme this week, in Tayside. It involves the use of a modified coach – which has basically been transformed into a mobile vaccination clinic.
A team have been travelling with the coach to remote and rural parts of Perthshire. And they have been delivering the vaccine – at home – to over 70-year-olds, and clinically vulnerable people who are unable to leave the house.
The feedback we’ve had - from the people who have had the vaccine in this way – has been hugely positive.
We are working with the Scottish Ambulance Service and other health boards to see if this model can be rolled out in other remote and rural parts of the country.
Some of these schemes won’t boost our headline numbers by much – certainly not in the way that our mass vaccination centres will. But they are really important ways of ensuring that we make vaccination as accessible as possible to as many people as possible. And it will further ensure that the vulnerable people – wherever they live – can get the vaccine as quickly as possible.
There’s another point in relation to the vaccinations that I want to cover today - and it’s specifically about the current weather conditions across parts of Scotland.
As you know, the Met Office has put out an Amber warning for snow – in parts of central and northern Scotland – today and tomorrow.
The potential disruption that this could cause obviously has implications for the vaccination programme. For example, it could make it very difficult for people to travel to their appointments – or it could prevent staff, who are administering the vaccine, from getting to their work.
The Scottish Government continues to work closely with local resilience partnerships, Transport Scotland, and other partners – to mitigate any potential disruption, so far as is possible.
As part of that, we are prioritising the clearance of roads in and around vaccination centres. That is standard practice around NHS facilities – whenever there is snow or ice. And so we’re ensuring that vaccination sites are being given that same priority.
These measures should help to ensure that people will be able to reach their destinations.
However, it is important to remember that – if you are due to be vaccinated, and you’re unable to travel because of the conditions - it is possible to reschedule your appointment.
The appointment letter you received, contains advice on how to do this. But if you’re not sure, you could also check the NHS Inform website. Or you can call the vaccination helpline – by calling 0800 030 8013. I’ll read out that number again in a moment.
That helpline will be able to give you advice on how to rearrange your appointment, if you are unable to make it because of the conditions. So if you need to find out more about that, please call 0800 030 8013.
The weather conditions are likely to create challenges for the vaccination programme, over the next day or so. But we are used to dealing with these kinds of conditions in Scotland. And we are working hard to minimize any disruption – so we can continue the good progress that’s been made.
Finally, I want to say a few words about testing.
On Tuesday, the First Minister set out our plans to expand regular testing of people who do not have symptoms. This follows on from the community trials that were conducted at the end of last year.
In recent weeks, local authorities have been submitting proposals on how asymptomatic testing could be deployed in their area.
Eight local authority schemes have been approved so far. We expect a further 11 schemes will be agreed today. And more will be confirmed next week.
Today I can announce that the first of the new schemes will launch next Wednesday, in Fife.
On that day, a new community testing centre will open in Cowdenbeath. The centre will be open from 8am until 8pm on weekdays – and initially, from 11am to 5pm on Saturdays and Sundays.
Over the coming weeks, four additional testing sites will open, in different parts of Fife.
It means that - if you live in Fife - you will be able to get tested at these sites, even if you do not have symptoms of Covid. And you will not have to book in advance.
The sites will use lateral flow tests. As we’ve discussed at these briefings before, those tests allow people to see their result very quickly - within 45 minutes of the test being administered – but they are less sensitive than standard PCR tests. For that reason, any positive cases will then be confirmed by the PCR test – which is currently used at other testing sites.
More information about this community scheme is available on the NHS Fife website.
And as I referred to earlier, there will be similar schemes launching in other parts of Scotland, in the coming weeks.
The targeted expansion of testing in these communities will help more people to find out if they have Covid - even if they don’t have symptoms. It will help them to know if they – or their contacts – need to self isolate. And it will therefore play an important part, in helping us to stop the spread of the virus.
Those were the main issues I wanted to cover today. To close, I want to remind everyone – once again – of the current rules and guidelines.
The most important rule at the moment is very clear – you should 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. Those include 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 – employers have a legal duty to support their employees in that respect.
And on any occasion when you do leave the 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 is possible.
That continues to be our best way of protecting ourselves, our loved ones and our communities. And it is how we slow the virus down further, as the vaccination programme accelerates.
So please - stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives.
Thank you, once again, to everyone who is doing exactly that.
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