Thanks for joining us again today.
I will start with the usual update on today’s statistics.
The total number of positive cases reported yesterday was 951.
That represents 4.5% of the total number of tests, and takes the total number of confirmed cases in Scotland to 96,762.
991 people are in hospital, that’s a decrease of 30 since yesterday.
68 people are in intensive care, which is 2 fewer than yesterday.
And finally, 38 additional deaths have been registered in the past 24 hours of a patient who first tested positive over the previous 28 days.
That takes the total number of deaths, under this measurement, to 3,797.
National Records of Scotland has also just published its weekly update, which includes cases where Covid is a suspected or contributory cause of death, in addition to those who have died where Covid was confirmed through a test.
Today’s update shows that by last Sunday, the total number of registered deaths linked to Covid, under that wider definition, was 5,634.
252 of those deaths were registered last week, which is 6 more than in the previous week.
165 of last week’s deaths were in hospital, 75 were in care homes, and 12 were at home or in another non-institutional setting.
Each one of those deaths was of course of a unique individual who was loved and valued, whose loss is a source of grief. These figures are a reminder of the toll this virus continues to take and yet again, as is the case every day, my thoughts are with every family across the country who has been bereaved or touched in some way by the impact of Covid.
I have three things I want to briefly update you on today.
First, I want to warmly welcome the news that the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, has been authorised for supply in the UK, by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency.
This is not unexpected. But even so, because it confirms that a safe and effective vaccine can now be used, it is perhaps the best news than any of us have heard about the virus since the pandemic began all these months ago. Today is genuinely a good day, we’re not at the end of this pandemic yet and of course we cannot and must not ease up in our efforts to control it, but today feels like it may well be the beginning of the end of this horrible experience. And for that reason I am sure I am far for the only one this morning who feels a lightness of heart that I haven felt in quite some time
We expect vaccines to be delivered over the course of December. And we expect that that will start to happen in the next few days.
And – if we receive the first doses of vaccine as soon as we are expecting to and there is no reason right now to doubt that – I can confirm that the first vaccines against Covid will start to be administered in Scotland on Tuesday 8 December. That is just six days from now. So to reiterate – the first vaccines against Covid will be administered in Scotland on Tuesday 8 December.
It is of course worth remembering that everyone will require two doses of the vaccine, and that these are likely to be offered 21-28 days apart – so it is unlikely that anyone’s vaccination will be completed until early next year. But there is no doubt that being able to have this degree of confidence that we can start a vaccination programme next week is absolutely fantastic news.
We will start by vaccinating the people who will be vaccinating everyone else. We will then follow the independent advice we have received from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.
They have recommended prioritising those with the greatest clinical need - including older residents in care homes, health and social care workers, and those aged over 80. Those groups will therefore be the first people we seek to vaccinate.
The authorisation which was issued today has some conditions which its important to be clear about, will make the Pfizer vaccine quite difficult to transport to some locations - especially individual houses. We are therefore in the process of planning how we can ensure that all people in priority groups can be vaccinated.
Overall, however, the high probability that vaccinations will start next week is welcome, and much-needed, good news for us all.
For all the difficulties that undoubtedly lie ahead, it should give us all real hope that the end of the pandemic for Scotland is in sight. And it should also motivate us and I’ll come back to this point at the end, to do everything we can between now and then to keep ourselves and each other safe, including of course over the upcoming Christmas period.
The second issue I want to cover, is to confirm that a new testing site has now opened at Johnston Town Hall in Renfrewshire.
If you live in Johnston, you can go to the town hall to get tested there, even if you do not have symptoms of Covid. You do not have to book in advance.
In the last few days, five other sites have been established, in communities with relatively high rates of Covid, to allow people without symptoms to get tested.
More than 4,000 people have now been tested at Alloa, Stewarton, Girvan, Dalmarnock and Pollokshields. I am grateful to everyone in those communities who has responded so well to the chance to get tested.
The Johnston site which opens today is the first to use lateral flow tests - which enable people to see their result within 45 minutes of the test being administered.
Any positive cases identified by the lateral flow test, can then be confirmed by the PCR test which is currently used at other testing sites.
The Johnston site - like the other testing sites I have just mentioned - will therefore help some people to find out if they have Covid, even if they do not have symptoms.
These sites collectively will also provide useful information for us, as we consider how best to expand community testing in the new year. I would encourage everyone and anyone in Johnston - or any of the five other locations I mentioned earlier – to get tested if they can.
The third point and final point I want to highlight also relates to testing and it is that from next week we are also looking to trial the use of lateral flow testing for designated visitors to care homes.
The procedure will initially be used in 15 care homes in five local authority areas to make sure we are testing the process being used. However I am able to confirm today that testing kits will then be delivered from the 14th of December to all care homes across Scotland. And I’m pleased to say that is a month earlier than originally anticipated.
It is possible that not all homes will be able to make lateral flow tests available before Christmas, and so we are also planning to make PCR testing of visitors available – when that is necessary - over the festive period.
We have of course discussed the use of lateral flow tests at these briefings on many occasions previously. They bring much quicker results than the standard PCR Covid tests we have been using so far, but they are also less sensitive, so the key point we have to stress is that while we think they can make a difference and can help us in the fight against Covid, it's important and particularly true for care homes, that we don’t allow testing to replace any of the other safeguards that we are being asked to follow. And that includes safeguards in place for designated visitors to care homes.
I think it’s important that we see this mass use of testing as a supplement and an addition to all the other protections that we are seeking to put in place. But it is potentially a really valuable way in which we can better protect care home residents and care home staff and help to bring a bit more normality back to life in care homes as quickly as we can.
Those are the three substantive issues I want to update on today and I think all of these can be described as positive news. Nothing that we say about all these positive developments can in any way cancel out the grief and the suffering and the pain that this virus has caused, it simply never will do that. But all of this allows us to start to look forward with some greater hope than any of us have been able to do for some time. And therefore while we remember, and always will remember, those who have died from this virus, the families affected and those who have been impacted in other ways, I think today is a day we should allow ourselves that bit of hope and optimism for the future.
The point I want to end on is the bridge and the gap we now face through a winter, between now and the vaccine really kicking in and starting to provide the protection that we need.
We know from today’s news that it is almost certain some people will receive their first vaccination jab before Christmas, and it means that for all of us, some sort of an end to the pandemic is firmly in sight. That light at the end of the tunnel seems a lot brighter today than it has been through the past few weeks. But as I’ve also said, there will be times over this winter where we still struggle to see that light – there will be dips in the road along the way, but we can get to that light as safely as possible if we continue to take all of the necessary steps to protect ourselves and each other. And today's news is hopefully not a sign or a signal for us to ease up on that, but a motivation to keep at it for these final few months and keep each other as safe as we can.
So while cases are reducing, the prevalence of the virus is still higher than we need it to be across the country. It is still dangerous. It will still spread into other households.
So now we need to motivate ourselves to do the things we need to, to get us safely through this next period. So I want to end just with a reminder of what we are asking people to do.
And I’ll start with Christmas, and the boundaries we have set out around what people might feel the need to do at Christmas. But now that we have that vaccine firmly in view, I would encourage everyone to think very carefully about whether you want to take any unnecessary risks with family at Christmas, or if you want to get through this Christmas with the prospect of being able to see family members much more normally in the spring of next year
So please remember to continue to stick to all the other rules and guidelines.
If you are in any doubt about what those rules are, in your local authority, please use the postcode checker on the Scottish Government’s website.
But in summary please don’t visit other peoples houses right now.
If you do meet people from other households – either outdoors or in public indoor places– the limit is six people, from a maximum of two households.
Stick to the travel restrictions so we are not taking the virus from high to low prevalence areas.
In addition, avoid car-sharing if you can.
Work from home if you can.
Download the Protect Scotland app, if you are able to.
And finally, remember FACTS - the five key rules that we can all use, to reduce our chance of getting the virus, or of passing it on:
- face coverings
- avoid crowded places
- clean your hands and clean hard surfaces
- keep two metres distance from people from other households
- and self-isolate, and get tested immediately, if you have any of the symptoms of Covid.
I thank people every day for sticking with all of this and I encourage people every day to stick with it a bit longer and I’m going to do all of that again today.
But I do it with a lighter feeling in my heart and a bigger smile on my face today.
And I really do what to thank everyone for helping us get to this stage where we now have that light shining so brightly at the end of tunnel.
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