Coronavirus (COVID-19) update: First Minister's speech – 27 July 2021

Statement given by the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at a media briefing in St Andrew's House, Edinburgh.

Good afternoon everyone, thank you very much for joining us at the slightly later time today.

As you can see, I am joined by Jason Leitch and we will take questions shortly.

Before that though, I’ll give a quick update on the current state of the pandemic. And I’ll start – as I usually do - with a short summary of today’s reported statistics.

1,004 positive cases were reported yesterday - which is 5.6% of all tests carried out and it takes the total number of confirmed cases now to 342,059.

Now, while as you have heard me say very often in the past, we should never put too much emphasis on a single day’s figures, it is nevertheless I think worth mentioning that today’s positivity rate of 5.6% is the lowest it has been on a single day since 19 June.

I can also confirm that there are 472 people receiving hospital treatment – that’s 3 fewer than yesterday.

And 63 people are in intensive care, that’s 2 fewer than yesterday.

Sadly though, a further 7 deaths have been reported in the past 24 hours, and that takes the total number of deaths registered, under this daily definition, to 7,866.

As always, my sincere condolences go to everyone who has lost someone as a result of the virus.

Let me also provide an update on the vaccination programme.

I’m pleased to say, firstly that as of this morning, a new milestone has been passed. More than 4 million people - 4,000,653 to be precise - have now received a first dose of the vaccine.

That's an increase of 2,031 since yesterday.

In addition to that, 16,826 people got a second dose yesterday and that means the total number of second doses administered is now 3,108,928.

All adults have now been offered a first dose of the vaccine – and 90% have taken up that offer and had a first dose.

In addition, approximately 70% of adults have had now had both doses of the vaccine – that includes 92% of those who are aged 40 or older.

Now obviously we will be working to increase these figures further in the weeks ahead – with a particular focus on the younger age groups.

But make no mistake, compared to any previous vaccination programme undertaken in this country - and indeed compared even to our own expectations at the start of the Covid vaccine programme - these are already quite extraordinary uptake figures.

And they do show how successful the vaccination programme has been so far.

There is lots there for us to be positive about, but as with all aspects of this virus we’re not complacent. We want to see as close to 100% of the eligible population vaccinated as we can get.

So if you haven’t yet had your vaccine it is not too late to do so, please take advantage of the many opportunities across the country and get vaccinated as quickly as possible.

There’s one other point on vaccination that I want to take a moment to particularly stress today.

The Scottish Government – in line with advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation – is strongly recommending that pregnant women get the vaccine as soon as they are asked to do so.

Vaccination is the best way of protecting against the risks of Covid in pregnancy – and these include admission of the pregnant mother to intensive care, and also the possible premature birth of the baby. Already in Scotland alone, more than 4,000 pregnant women have received the vaccine, and there are thousands and thousands more across the world who have received the vaccine. The evidence of its safety is overwhelming.

Further information is available from the Public Health Scotland website, and also from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. But essentially, the message is if you are pregnant, and you are invited for the vaccine, please do get it – it will help you to protect yourself and protect your baby.

The progress of the vaccination programme is very important, of course in considering the current state of the pandemic.

The Scottish Government as you know, hopes to lift more of the remaining Covid measures with a move beyond level 0 from Monday 9 August, and this time next week, I will make a statement to the Scottish parliament setting out whether - and to what extent - we think we are able to go ahead with that.

What we will be doing between now and then is weighing up the different factors that will inform that decision. Several of these factors give us really strong grounds for hope, and that’s positive, although others remind us of the need for continued caution.

So I want to quickly summarise some of those in my remarks today.

First of all, there is no doubt – as I have said before and already highlighted today - we are in a much better place than we were last March at the start of the pandemic or at the beginning of this year or even at the start of this month.

Thanks to vaccination, the very high case numbers we have seen in the past 2 months or so haven’t resulted in same number of deaths or hospitalisations as in previous waves - though I think it is important to say that every single death or every instance of somebody requiring hospital treatment matters. That’s not something we should ever be complacent about.

Vaccination is also one of the factors that helps to explain why case numbers in Scotland are reducing as significantly as they are right now – and to give some context to that - case numbers have more than halved in the last 3 weeks.

Last week – up to 23 July – there was a daily average of 1,523 new cases.

That’s down from 3,305 per day on average in the week up to 2 July.

The average test positivity rate is also down from more than 10% at the start of the month to just over 7% now. As I said earlier, the test positivity reported today is actually the lowest we’ve seen since mid-June.

To put all of this in comparative terms, within the UK at the start of this month, Scotland accounted for 5 of the top 10 local authority covid hotspots across the UK.

At this stage, we have none in the top 150 local authority hotspots across the UK.

We are now seeing hospital admissions start to fall as well. 421 people were admitted to hospital with Covid in the most recent week, down from 577 in the previous week.

As a result of that, we would hope to see the number of people in intensive care with Covid, and the number of people dying, also start to reduce soon.

So, in short, we have seen some very positive developments recently and that does give us, certainly gives me, grounds for optimism that we will be able to continue our progress out of restrictions.

That said, we do still need to be cautious.

It’s good that cases are lower than they were three weeks ago. That comes as a relief, I know, to all of us.

But they are still 9 times higher than at the start of May. And we know that the Delta variant is significantly more infectious than previous variants.

So just as a sensible degree of caution up to now has helped us get case numbers back on a downward path, a sensible degree of continued caution in the period ahead will help avoid sending that progress into reverse.

It will also help us do something that is really important, to make sure we’re doing everything we can to protect the most vulnerable in our society from Covid.

We know from our own quite recent experience how quickly progress can be reversed.  And we can see it in other countries right now as well.

So while we should be pleased and indeed relieved about our current process, we should not take it for granted.

Covid is still capable of causing serious illness and death, and the of course the impact of long Covid should not be underestimated.

And, the virus can still put significant pressure on the NHS - and indeed, it is doing exactly that right now. Because, although case numbers are reducing, the lag effect means that we are not yet seeing just as big a decline on the pressure on the NHS. Hopefully that will follow in the days and weeks to come.

So, these are the factors we will be weighing up in the days ahead.

In short, to try to summarise that, I am confident we will make progress - and while we are already living with far fewer restrictions, than has been the case at previous stages of the pandemic, all of us want to see the remaining restrictions eased as quickly as possible – that’s important to all of us as individuals. It is very important to businesses and the economy as well. But we will need to do that with appropriate caution and an appropriate degree of care.

And we will weigh all of that up in the days to come. I will set out our conclusions this time next week in a virtual session of parliament.

But for today, let me finish again by stressing the three key things all of us can do – because all of us have a part to play here - to keep things moving firmly in the right direction.

The first of course is to get vaccinated.

Remember, if you are over 18 and haven’t had your first dose yet; or indeed if you turn 18 before the end of October; or if you had your first dose 8 or more weeks ago – you can simply go to a drop-in clinic to get your either your first or second dose as appropriate.

There are drop-in sites now in every mainland health board area. You can find out where they are through the vaccinations section of the NHS Inform website, or through your local health board’s website, or by following your local health board on social media.

You will see lots of examples right now, here in Lothian and Glasgow for example, of innovative locations for setting up vaccination sites to make it as easy and as accessible for people as possible.

That said, you can also book an appointment, if that’s easier for you. And you can do that also through NHS Inform.

Second thing we’re asking everybody to do is get tested regularly.

You can get the free lateral flow tests through NHS inform, by post or you can collect them from testing sites and local pharmacies.

Remember, if you test positive through one of these devices - or if you have symptoms of the virus - self-isolate, and book a PCR test as quickly as possible.

And third and finally, stick to the rules that are still in place for now, and keep following the basic hygiene measures. All of these things are really helping us get the situation under control. If we can keep it under control, then we have a greater chance of continuing to move in the right direction.

So, meet other people outdoors as much as possible.

Having had some good weather in the past couple of weeks, I think we’ve got a few days ahead of not so good weather to put it mildly. But still, try and stay outdoors as much as you can.

If you are meeting indoors, open windows if at all possible – the better ventilated a room is, the relatively speaking, safer that’s going to be.  

And for now, stick to the limits on group sizes. In someone’s home right now, you can currently meet in groups of up to 8 people, from up to 4 households.

And lastly remember, please remember physical distancing, hand-washing, face coverings - all of these things are as important now as they have ever been.

They are helping us get a really difficult situation at the start of this month back under control. And, they will help us continue to make the progress that all of us are desperate to see.

So, thank you again for joining us and listening.

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