- 8 Mar 2021
Good afternoon, thank you very much for joining us this afternoon.
I will start with the usual update on today’s statistics.
The total number of positive cases reported yesterday was 501.
That represents five per cent of the total number of tests, and takes the total number of confirmed cases in Scotland to 205,999.
138 of those new cases were in Greater Glasgow and Clyde, 99 in Lanarkshire, and 67 in Lothian.
The remaining cases were spread across the eight other mainland health board areas.
654 people are currently in hospital – that is an increase of 26.
It is worth noting that from today onwards, the Greater Glasgow and Clyde Health Board is recording its figures for Covid patients, so that they include people with a positive test from a UK lighthouse laboratory.
Previously, Glasgow only recorded patients who had been tested by their hospitals’ own programme. Today’s change therefore brings Glasgow into line with all other health boards.
59 people are in intensive care, which is a decrease of two from the day before
And one additional death has been registered in the last 24 hours, of a patient who first tested positive over the previous 28 days.
As you may know, we often report a low number of deaths on Monday, because registration offices tend to be closed at the weekend.
Since last Friday’s briefing, a total of 13 deaths have been registered. That takes the total number of deaths registered, under the definition used in our daily figures, to 7,422.
Once again I extend my condolences, to all those who have lost a loved one as a consequence of Covid.
I can also provide an update on the progress of our vaccination programme.
As of 8:30 this morning, the total number of people in Scotland who have received their first dose of the vaccine is 1,774,659.
That is an increase of 14,909 since yesterday.
In addition, 2,802 people received their second dose yesterday, which brings the total number of second doses to 118,732.
I can confirm that 96 per cent of 65 to 69 year olds have now received a first dose of the vaccine.
And so too have 42 per cent of 60-64 year olds; 35 per cent of 55 to 59 year olds; and 29 per cent of 50 to 54 year olds.
The figures for vaccination that have been reported in recent days reflect the slight dip in supply that the Scottish Government previously indicated would happen around now. That may continue to affect vaccination numbers for the rest of this week.
However we expect that during the second half of March and April, the pace of the vaccination programme will again accelerate significantly.
We are therefore on track to offer a first dose of the vaccine by the middle of April to all over 50 year olds; all unpaid carers; and all adults with particular underlying health conditions.
I am joined today by the Chief Medical Officer, Gregor Smith, who will help me to answer some questions shortly.
I will address a number of issues about the return to school for more pupils next week.
However before I can do that, I have to address yesterday’s events in Glasgow.
All of us recognise that winning the league was a special moment for Rangers Football Club - and before I say more I want to congratulate the club on their success and thank all those fans who celebrated at home, and who followed the rules.
But the behaviour of some fans has been an absolute disgrace, and has undoubtedly cast a shadow over what should have been a special day for the team.
The success that we’ve have had in recent weeks in reducing case numbers is because so many people across Scotland have stuck to extremely tough rules, which are designed to prevent the spread of the virus between different households.
To see so many people deliberately flouting these rules with no regard for the safety of others, is shameful. Events like yesterday risk spreading the virus.
And they show no regard or respect at all for the millions of households across Scotland who have been sticking to the rules – who haven’t been able to meet up with friends and families, to fully celebrate birthdays and other milestones, or in some cases to attend funeral services of their loved ones.
The Government and Police Scotland reminded Rangers of the need for the club to advice fans to adhere to the current restrictions in discussions on 26 February and 5 March. It is a matter of profound regret that that did not happen.
The Scottish Government will be making our extreme disappointment at the lack of leadership clear to the team management, and we will be speaking to all the authorities about what further assurance they can give to us ahead of future planned games.
I also understand that many people have questions as to the preparation for and the nature of the Policing that took place yesterday – and why they did not prevent people from gathering.
I understand the anger of those living and working in the city centre at what they saw, and at what took place.
Policing of such occasions requires difficult operational judgements to be arrived at by Police Scotland.
The Justice Secretary has spoken to the Chief Constable and to Rangers FC, and will be doing so again - to understand why the events of yesterday took place as they did; what actions are now being taken to identify those responsible; and what more can be done to try to ensure we do not see repeats of those scenes at upcoming events.
The main issue I want to highlight today, however, relates to schools. As you know, children in primary 4 to 7 will return to school full time next week.
In addition, next Monday sees the start of a phased return to school for young people in secondary school years 1 to 6.
Guidance on this phased return is being published today. Among other things, it stresses that all staff and secondary school pupils should wear face coverings in classrooms, in communal areas, and when moving about the school. The guidance also highlights the importance of 2 metre physical distancing during the phased return.
We currently expect - subject to our progress in suppressing the virus, and to further scientific advice – that all secondary school pupils will return to full-time in-person learning after the Easter holidays.
I can confirm one further measure that we will adopt, to make that full return as safe as possible.
We already offer twice-weekly tests for all school staff, and all senior phase pupils – that is, pupils in secondary school years 4 to 6.
We have seen good levels of uptake so far, amongst those people who are eligible for tests.
We are also working with partners to extend the offer of testing to staff in premises for pre-school learning and childcare. We expect to manage this from later this month.
We have focused on offering tests to senior phase pupils because they are more likely to get Covid than younger pupils – although it’s worth remembering that they are less likely to have the virus than older adults.
However, we have also said that we would keep this policy under review.
The Advisory Sub Group on Education and Children’s Issues last week noted that there could be benefits in making tests available to young people in secondary school years 1 to 3.
We have now had initial discussions on this issue with young people’s representatives; with key local government and trade union partners; and with the UK Department of Health, who provide the tests for our schools testing programme.
And I can confirm that, when children return from their Easter break, we will provide secondary schools with additional test kits. This will allow schools to offer twice-weekly lateral flow home testing kits for all secondary school pupils including those in S1 to S3.
Guidance will re-emphasise that staff and pupils who test positive must self-isolate.
As many of you will know by now, lateral flow tests provide extremely quick results – usually within about half an hour. That makes them extremely useful for regular testing programs of this kind. However lateral flow tests are less sensitive than laboratory PCR tests.
For that reason, we will continue to ask that everyone who tests positive using a Lateral Flow Device has a confirmatory PCR test, to reduce the risk of false positive results.
Testing will continue to be voluntary, and no-one will be excluded from education if they do not wish to test.
However, I would strongly encourage staff and pupils to participate, to help reduce risks for the whole school community.
We will continue to work with partners to monitor levels of uptake, and positivity rates amongst secondary school pupils. We will then review the scope and effectiveness of the programme towards the end of May.
It is also important to stress that testing remains one part of a wider package of mitigation measures.
Those measures include the wearing of face coverings, as I mentioned earlier, and good ventilation. It will continue to be vital that those wider mitigation measures are implemented rigorously.
And of course staff or pupils must not ignore these other measures, simply because they have received a negative test result.
Overall, however, we see twice-weekly testing for pupils as an additional precaution, which will help us to make the return of children and young people to school as safe as possible.
The final point I’d like to highlight today, is to say something about the schedule of briefings for the rest of this week.
Tomorrow, as usual, the First Minister will give a statement to Parliament about the pandemic. This is likely to be around about 2:20.
As the First Minister said last week, the data is going in the right direction and so we are all hopeful that we will be able to ease some of the restrictions on people’s social interactions, when they take place outdoors.
On Wednesday, the First Minister is appearing before the Parliament’s Covid committee at the time that this briefing would normally be held.
And on Thursday, as usual, the First Minister will provide a brief update to Parliament before First Minister’s Questions.
The next of these regular Scottish Government briefings, therefore, will be on Friday at 12.15. As you have heard however, we will be providing regular updates to Parliament in the days before then – all of them can be viewed by the public.
Those are the main issues I wanted to highlight today. Before I close, I will end, as usual, by stressing our current rules and guidelines.
The most important rule of all remains a very clear one - stay at home.
In any level 4 area, that of course includes all of mainland Scotland, you must only leave the house for essential purposes.
Those essential purposes include caring responsibilities, essential shopping, and exercise.
You cannot meet up with other households indoors.
And if you meet up with someone outdoors, you can only at present meet 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 to work from home.
And on any occasion when you do leave the house, please remember FACTS:
- wear face coverings when you are doing essential shopping;
- avoid anywhere that’s 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.
I know how difficult that is, but it is working.
And if we stick with it, we can keep the virus under control, while vaccination continues.
So please stay at home, protect the National Health Service, and save lives.
Thank you, once again, to everyone who is doing exactly that.