Two weeks ago, the Scottish Government published a new strategic approach to tackling Covid, and shortly afterwards we confirmed the level of restrictions that would apply initially to each local authority area.
I indicated then that the allocation of levels would be reviewed on a weekly basis.
Our intention - unless we consider more urgent action to be necessary - is to set out any changes on a Tuesday, and for these changes to take effect the following Friday.
Today is the first of these reviews and I will shortly confirm the levels that will apply to each local authority area from Friday.
However, I can confirm at the outset that the majority of local authorities will see no immediate change this week.
I will set out the rationale behind our decisions, and we are publishing on the Scottish Government website this afternoon detailed data for each local authority.
However, it is important to be clear that these decisions always involve careful judgments as well as hard data.
Firstly, though, I will report on today’s statistics.
The total number of positive cases reported yesterday was 832.
This represents 9.5% of people newly tested, and takes the total number of cases to 75,187.
293 of the cases were in Greater Glasgow & Clyde, 171 in Lanarkshire, 114 in Lothian and 90 in Ayrshire & Arran.
The remaining cases were spread across the other 7 mainland health boards.
1,239 people are now in hospital – an increase of 12 from yesterday.
And 102 people are in intensive care, which is 3 fewer than yesterday.
I also deeply regret to say that in the last 24 hours, a further 39 deaths have been registered of patients who first tested positive over the previous 28 days.
That means that the total number of deaths, under this measure, is now 3,079.
Two weeks ago, that number was 2,726.
Tomorrow’s update from the National Records of Scotland will give us a fuller picture of the number of deaths, based on its wider definition.
But even using today’s figures, the fact that we have seen more than 300 people dying in the past two weeks, is a sharp reminder of the heartbreak this virus causes, and why we must do all we can to tackle it.
Once again, my deepest condolences go to all those who have lost a loved one.
Those who have lost someone or who are living with the long term effects of Covid obviously carry the greatest burden of this virus.
But I know everyone is finding the experience, and the restrictions we are living under, increasingly difficult.
And I know the figures I report each day contribute to a sense that there is no light at the end of this tunnel.
Throughout this pandemic, I’ve tried not to give false assurance - instead, I’ve done my best to be straight about the challenge we face.
And I’m going to stick with that approach - not least because, as will be obvious from my statement today, we do still face tough times ahead.
But - and this is important - there are also grounds for optimism now.
We are not at the end of the tunnel yet, but a glimmer of light has appeared.
Yes, there will still be dips in the road, and that means the light might be obscured at times.
But it is very much there and we are heading towards it.
Yesterday’s news from the Pfizer vaccine trial was extremely encouraging, that’s probably an understatement. And that of course is not the only vaccine undergoing trials just now.
Of course, there are questions still to be answered and hurdles yet to be overcome, and it will take time practically and logistically, to get large numbers of people vaccinated.
But this was the most positive indication yet that science will get us out of this - and it will hopefully do so in the not too distant future. That is really good news.
Of course, even the not too distant future is still the future.
That means, for now, it is down to all of us to keep the virus under control and save lives, by sticking to the rules and guidance.
But here too, we have some cause for cautious optimism.
The sacrifices everyone is making are hard – and they feel never-ending - but they are helping. They have made a difference, and they are saving lives. I have no doubt about that, and no one should be in doubt about that.
To illustrate that point, let me give some detail on one of the measures, just one of the measures, we look at, each week - the average number of new cases per day, over a continuous seven day period, based on the day when each test sample was given.
In just three weeks, between Friday 25 September and 16 October, Scotland’s average daily figure for new cases increased by more than 150%.
It rose from 482 to 1,217.
If that scale of increase had continued, we would now have around 3,000 new cases a day.
But instead, in the next three week period, the number of new cases stayed at more or less the same average daily level. So by last Friday, the average daily figure was 1,174.
There have also been some signs of a fall in hospital admissions.
In the 7 days to 30 October, 725 people were admitted to hospital with Covid. In the 7 days to 6 November, just last Friday, 545 people were admitted.
So there is no doubt that the restrictions we have put in place, and that people are abiding by, have dramatically slowed the spread of the virus.
But of course that figure for hospital admissions – more than 500 in a week – is still too high.
The number of new cases we are seeing – more than 1,000 a day on average – is also still too high.
And - this is crucial - while we have seen a levelling off, we are not yet seeing a sustained fall in cases.
In fact, although there was a very slight fall in some recent weeks, last week we actually saw a slight increase.
Clearly, that requires continued caution.
As I have set out before, a rising or even plateauing rate of infection is not a stable position. We want to see a decline in cases.
So we will be monitoring the situation carefully in the days ahead and we can’t rule out the need to take action beyond what I will set out today.
Also, in light of the situation I have just outlined, it would clearly not be prudent to ease restrictions today - with one exception for our 3 island authorities, which I will set out shortly.
However, I can confirm that no local authority will move down a level this week.
In light of particularly sharp increases in cases, unfortunately, 3 local authorities will move up from level 2 to level 3.
And while no local authority, I am pleased to say, will move to level 4 this week, there are a number that are giving us some cause for concern and we will be monitoring these particularly closely over the next few days. I will come onto the detail of all of that in a moment.
But let me firstly set out again the indicators and the wider factors that we consider in reaching these decisions.
We look at data for each local authority on case numbers per 100,000 of the population, trends in case numbers, test positivity, and hospital and intensive care capacity.
We are publishing the data that has informed our decisions for each local authority today and you can look at it on the Scottish Government website.
We also consider the extent to which different local authority areas are contributing to the situation across the country as a whole, and the links and interdependencies between them.
And we seek to balance the wider health, economic and social harms caused by the restrictions in place.
We consider the advice of public health directors through the National Incident Management Team, and consult with local authorities.
Then Cabinet, with advice from the Chief Medical Officer, National Clinical Director and others, balances all of these factors and reaches decisions.
So let me turn now to the detail of the decisions reached by Cabinet this morning.
Firstly, I can confirm that Highland, Moray, Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles will remain at level 1.
However, there must be no complacency in these areas. Restrictions still in place must be adhered to, and all necessary precautions taken in workplaces, hospitality, schools and colleges, and health care settings.
There is one restriction that we do intend to ease for people living in Shetland, Orkney and the Western Isles.
From Friday, residents of these three island authorities will be able to meet with one other household inside their homes, up to a strict maximum of six people.
We are able to make this change because case numbers in these island authorities are very low and sporadic, and we recognise that the social isolation caused by such a restriction is often exacerbated in island communities where there are not as many public places to meet.
However - and this is an important caveat - importation of the virus is a real risk to the islands. For that reason, we will also be issuing clear guidance advising anyone who goes to or returns to the islands from the mainland to avoid in-house mixing for a period after their return.
Unfortunately, we do not yet consider it prudent to lift this restriction for people living in Highland and Moray, the other level 1 areas.
Although cases in these areas remain relatively low, we have seen some volatility in recent days.
So to people living across the Highlands and in Moray, as for people in the rest of the country, we continue to ask that you do not visit each other’s homes - except for essential purposes, such as childcare, looking after a vulnerable person or being part of an extended household.
I know this is tough but it remains the single most effective way of preventing transmission of the virus from one household to another.
Let me turn now to those areas currently in level 2.
I can confirm that Aberdeenshire, Aberdeen City, the Borders, Dumfries and Galloway, and Argyll & Bute will all remain at Level 2.
These are all areas that will be hopeful, as I am, of a move to level 1 soon.
However, while there are some signs of stability and even improvement in most of them, there is not yet sufficient evidence of a sustained decline in the number of cases.
Indeed, I have to point out that in the Borders, and although to a lesser extent in Dumfries & Galloway, we have seen an increase in cases in the most recent data that we have available.
For these reasons, we consider it sensible for these areas to remain in level 2 for now - but we do remain hopeful that some or all of them will be able to move to level 1 soon.
The other areas currently in level 2 are Fife, Perth & Kinross and Angus.
I can confirm that we have taken the very difficult, but in our view necessary and precautionary decision to move Fife, Perth & Kinross and Angus to level 3 from Friday.
While on the raw indicators alone, Angus and Perth & Kinross are not yet meeting the level 3 thresholds and Fife is meeting just one of them, all three areas are on a sharply rising trajectory.
The most recent data shows that, in the space of a week, the 7 day number of cases per 100,000 of the population has increased in Perth & Kinross by 32%, in Fife by 40%, and in Angus by 47%.
The advice of the Chief Medical Officer and National Clinical Director is that level 2 restrictions may well not be sufficient to slow down and reverse increases of this magnitude and, as a result, an early move to level 3 was strongly recommended.
I know how disappointing this will be to residents and businesses in these areas.
However, and this is an important point, by acting now, we can hopefully prevent an even more serious deterioration in the situation in future.
I would ask people living in these areas to check the Scottish Government website to understand the restrictions in place at level 3.
Businesses will also find details there of the financial support available from the Scottish Government – which of course is in addition to the UK Government’s furlough scheme.
A factor relevant to both Angus and Perth & Kinross is proximity to and interaction with the city of Dundee.
Dundee entered level 3 on 2 November, and I can confirm that it will remain at level 3 for now.
However, I hope the three authorities going into level 3 this week will take some encouragement from it.
The most recent data shows cases and test positivity declining in the city of Dundee and, while it is too soon to be sure that this will be sustained, I want to stress that the trend is very much positive at this stage.
I can also confirm that the other 18 local authorities currently at level 3 will remain there for now.
However, it is important to note, that there is a varied picture across the level 3 areas and a move to level 4 for some in the near future cannot be ruled out, for reasons that I will outline.
However, firstly on the positive side - some of the current level 3 areas are, like Dundee, showing encouraging signs. There is some volatility in the most recent data for some of these areas, but I would mention, with varying degrees of confidence, East Lothian, City of Edinburgh, Clackmannanshire, East Dunbartonshire, Falkirk, Midlothian and North Ayrshire and East Ayrshire.
Obviously, we will monitor all of these areas carefully - but we hope that if people continue to abide by all the restrictions, we will continue to see improvement and some of these areas may be able to move out of level 3 relatively soon.
However, there are two categories of level 3 areas that we will be considering particularly carefully over the next week.
Firstly, there are areas where current restrictions have worked very effectively to halt sharp increases in cases and stabilise the situation. That includes, in particular, the city of Glasgow and North and South Lanarkshire, but also I’d mention West Lothian and West Dunbartonshire.
And that stabilisation is really positive news, don’t lose sight of that - without the sacrifices everyone has been making, the situation would be much more severe.
However, while cases have stabilised in these areas, they have stabilised at a stubbornly high level.
I have set out previously the risks of going further into winter with a high level of cases, even if it has plateaued.
So the difficult question we must consider in the next days is whether more time in level 3 will start to reduce cases in these areas, or whether that is going to require more action.
And finally there are some areas in level 3 where we are in recent days seeing a sharp rise in cases.
I have to point out to the Chamber that right now we are particularly concerned just now about Inverclyde and Stirling and, to a lesser extent, South Ayrshire, Renfrewshire and East Renfrewshire.
The advice of the Chief Medical Officer and National Clinical Director is that since these areas are already in the tougher level 3 restrictions and given the need to understand the situations in these areas in more detail, an immediate move to level 4 would not be merited.
However, their advice is that we should monitor the data for these areas closely and on a daily basis.
Given the severity of the level 4 restrictions, we will not take a decision to move any part of the country to that level lightly. In addition we want to give the current levels more chance to work.
But nor will we shy away from doing that, if we think it necessary to limit the damage the virus can do, or if we think a short period at level 4 may be less harmful overall for an area than a prolonged period at level 3.
These are really difficult decisions and I want to stress that the week ahead is a particularly crucial juncture.
And of course I will keep Parliament fully updated.
However, I want to stress this point. The best chance all of us have of avoiding a move to level 4 or indeed of moving our area down a level is to stick with it and abide by all of the current restrictions.
I know fatigue is setting in, and frustration is setting in too, but I appeal to everyone across the country - particularly if you might have been letting your guard drop recently - please redouble your efforts in the days ahead.
In particular, please do not visit other people’s houses. That is the biggest risk of passing this virus from one household to another.
We know - and we can show, I have done that to some extent today - that all of these hard sacrifices are making a difference.
But the fact is they will only make a big enough difference if all of us do all of the right things, all of the time. That is tough but it is the reality we face.
Finally, let me stress the travel restrictions that remain essential to a targeted approach to tackling the virus.
These will remain in guidance over the next week but we continue to prepare the regulations, and resolve the practical issues, that would be required to put them into law.
We will not hesitate to do that if we think that is necessary.
However, I appeal to people across the country, please abide by these travel restrictions now so that it doesn’t become necessary.
If you live in a level 3 council area, do not travel outside your own local authority area unless it is for essential purposes such as work that can’t be done at home, healthcare, or caring responsibilities. You can find the full list of essential purposes on the Scottish Government website.
And if you live elsewhere, do not travel into a level 3 area, except for those same essential purposes.
And please do not travel outside of Scotland, to other parts of the UK or overseas right now, unless it is for these essential purposes.
Abiding by restrictions like these is hard, it is not a position any of us want to be in - but I cannot stress it enough that it is essential if we are to avoid spreading the virus from high prevalence areas to lower prevalence areas. If we do that those lower prevalence areas will end up under tougher restrictions that otherwise necessary.
There are many people across our country right now who are grieving the loss of a loved one. Too many people.
Many more have lost jobs or are right now worried about losing jobs.
And some are living with the long term health effects of Covid.
For these carrying the heaviest burden of this virus, words are of course little comfort.
But for all of that - and for all the fatigue, frustration and apprehension that we all feel - let’s not forget that glimmer of hope.
The numbers I report – for new cases, people in hospital and dying – remind us that this virus continues to exact a terrible toll.
And looking around the world just now, it is easy to see that if we are not careful, things could get worse.
But against that, we can also see that the sacrifices we make do have an impact and are having an impact.
And yesterday’s announcement about a vaccine is the best news we have heard since the start of this pandemic.
One of the points I’ve tried to stress in the past few months is that at some point this will all be over – at some point we will be looking back on it rather than living through it.
Today, though tough times do still lie ahead, that seems a bit more real, a bit more graspable, for all of us.
Of course, it doesn’t remove the need for caution.
It will be over one day - hopefully soon - but it is not over yet.
So this is not the time to let down our guard.
Now is the time to do everything we can to look after, and look out for, each other.
The more we can keep each other safe in the weeks and months ahead, the more we can look forward to brighter days in the spring.
So please – now more than ever – stick to the rules in your area. Check the website to see what they are.
And please remember FACTS -
- Wear face coverings
- Avoid places with crowds of people
- Clean your hands, and hard surfaces regularly
- Keep 2 metre distance from people in other households.
- And self isolate, and get tested, if you have any of the symptoms of Covid.
If we all continue to do all of this, all of the time, we will protect ourselves, our loved ones, and our NHS.
And we will undoubtedly save lives.
My thanks once again to everyone for sticking with it - and sticking with each other.
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