Coronavirus (COVID-19) update: First Minister's speech - 5 January 2021

Statement given by the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at a media briefing in St Andrew's House, Edinburgh on Tuesday 5 January 2021.

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Good afternoon everyone and since this is the first media briefing of the new year let me wish all of you a happy new year. This year is having a very difficult start but we do hope that it will nevertheless bring better times ahead.

Now I’m going to say more in a few moments about the announcements that I set out in parliament yesterday.

But as usual I will give you an update on today’s statistics first.

I can tell you that the total number of positive cases reported yesterday was 2,529.

That represents 14.8% of the total number of tests, and it means that the total number of confirmed cases that we now have in Scotland is139,027.

Analysis of PCR samples also shows that the new variant is now responsible for around 50% of new cases in Scotland - and that that is a proportion that is rising.

695 of the new cases today were in Greater Glasgow and Clyde, 388 in Lanarkshire, 322 in Lothian, and 210 in Tayside.

The remaining cases are spread across eight other health board areas.

1,347 people are currently in hospital – now, we haven’t been reporting hospital and ICU figures over the New Year bank holiday period, but to give you some context for that figure today I can tell you that it is 255 more people in hospital now than was the case a week ago – exactly a week ago today.

And 93 people are in intensive care, and that is 28 more than a week ago today.

11 additional deaths have been registered in the past 24 hours, of patients who first tested positive in the previous 28 days.

Of course, yesterday was a bank holiday so it is possible that this figure today is artificially low as a result of that.

But it means that the total number of deaths reported under this daily measurement, is now 4,633.

And of course every single one of these deaths – I report them here on a daily basis as statistics - but every single one of those statistics represents a human being who has lost their lives to this virus and will have left behind grieving families and friends.

So again today, my condolences and thoughts go to every individual and family who is in that situation.

Now, I am joined today by the National Clinical Director, he is going to help me answer questions in a few moments.

But before we get to questions, I would like to emphasise the key points that I set out yesterday in parliament.

Firstly, just to reiterate that the current situation that we face now in the pandemic is, in my view, more serious than it has been at any time since the spring.

And that’s because this new more transmissible variant of Covid is becoming increasingly common as i said a moment ago.

And as a result of that, cases are rising much more steeply and rapidly than they had been in the latter part of last year; and as a result of that more people are likely to become seriously ill; and the health service will come under more severe pressure.

That of course is the negative – the worrying - position we face, and I don’t say it for exaggeration, I say it because we all must take that seriously right now.

But of course, there is a difference between now last spring, and that is a positive difference. And that of course is the fact that vaccines have been approved for use in the UK now and vaccines we know does offer us the way out of this pandemic.

More than a hundred thousand people in Scotland have already been vaccinated. And, as I set out in parliament yesterday, we expect – although these timetables are still tentative – that by May more than 2.5 million people will have received vaccination – at least the first dose of the vaccination.

That includes everyone on what is called the JCVI priority list – everyone over the age of 50, and people under 50 who have specific underlying health conditions.

Now we will do everything we can to speed that up to deliver vaccines as quickly as possible, and we will set out what our expectations are around that as the certainty we have on the flow of supplies becomes much firmer – I hope, in the days and weeks to come.

But in the race we currently face – and I am describing it deliberately as a race between the vaccine and the virus, because that really is in essence what it is – we can’t rely solely on speeding up vaccination. That’s really important, but because this new variant is spreading so much more quickly we must also act as we vaccinate more people to slow the virus down so that the vaccination can get ahead and ultimately be in a position where it wins the race.

And, the new variant - because it is much easier to transmit, and spreads more quickly –means that slowing it down is more difficult and to achieve that takes much stricter restrictions than the ones that have been in place over the past few months.

And that is why we got to the position yesterday of announcing what is effectively a new lockdown.

And the key message we want to convey and are conveying and stressing very, very strongly is a simple message – not simple to abide by, but simple for me to communicate, and it’s a similar message to the one I communicated for much of last year and that is - stay at home.

Staying at home whenever possible is the best way now of protecting ourselves, protecting each other, protecting the NHS and – ultimately - saving lives.

There are of course specified essential purposes for which you can leave your house – these include exercise, essential shopping, providing care, perhaps for a vulnerable relative.

And because extended households are still permitted, to try and help us in some way tackle the loneliness and isolation of these restrictions, you can also leave your home to visit the other people in your extended household. 

But fundamentally, I’m asking everybody to really try hard to stay at home as much as possible – and only leave home if it is for a genuinely essential purpose.

And that means that you must work from home if you can.

In fact, it is only permissible to leave home to go to work if you cannot work from home.

Now, businesses, employers have a big part to play in ensuring we achieve that. The Economy Secretary spoke to business organisations yesterday to reinforce this message.

And I want to be clear that we really need businesses in this next phase - as they have been throughout - to be responsible, to help us fight this virus.

And that means – just as this is true for individuals for the stay at home message – it means not always looking for the loophole that allows you to stay open or have your staff physically at work. Instead it means thinking about how you as a business can maximise your contribution to the collective challenge that we all now face.

And in return, government must do – and we will continue to do – all we can to maximise the financial support available to you.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer has just announced this morning additional financial support for businesses, and we are over the course of the day trying to get clarity of the detail on that so that we then know what that enables us to do in addition to the considerable financial support for businesses that is already in place.

Returning to what lockdown means for all of us as individuals, we have also introduced tighter restrictions on outdoor socialising, because this virus we know is spreading more easily. So it is still possible to meet someone outdoors – but only two people from two households can now meet up – previously it was up to six people from two households, but now only two people from a maximum of two households.

That rule applies to everyone who is aged 12 and over – and that means that outdoor exercise should also only take place in groups of two, and no more than two households.

Now we announced several other significant restrictions yesterday – you can find full details of these on the Scottish Government website. And where there is a  need for it we will put forward and publish additional guidance to help people navigate their way through this as well as we can.

Now one thing I want to mention specifically, because I know it is very distressing for many people – and that was the announcement yesterday that places of worship will close over this next period as well  – except for funerals and weddings. I know for people in faith communities who take great comfort from collective worship this is a particularly large restriction to bear. But we do deem it essential at the moment to help us with that overall task of keeping the virus, or getting the virus back under control.

But we will not keep these restrictions in place for any longer than necessary.

We have also, of course, regrettably decided that school and nursery buildings will only be open for children of key workers and vulnerable pupils until at least 1 February.

For that time, remote learning will continue for the majority of pupils, and this is without a doubt – I said this yesterday but it is worth repeating - the most difficult of the restrictions that we put in place yesterday. I know how tough it will be for pupils, who as well as missing education in the normal school environment will be missing your friends and the normal social aspect of growing up and enjoying your school life. And I am sorry about that and we will try and get you back to school as quickly as possible.

But this is also difficult for parents – particularly those who are working and who are trying to juggle online learning, and we are thinking about what more support we can put in place to help you through this difficult period.

The decision on schools will be reviewed fortnightly -  and we will do everything we can to get as many pupils as possible back to school as soon as it is safe to do so.

But at the moment, the community transmission of the virus is too high, and still rising – and also there is some uncertainty about the impact of the new variant on young people, and those two things together lead us to the judgement that it is not safe enough to have schools open right now for the majority of pupils as normal.

Now, the measures that were announced yesterday that I’ve just run through here today are of course not the start to this year that any of us would have wanted.

They are really tough for businesses, for individuals – and as I have said at a couple of occasions already, we will consider what further support we are able to provide.

But the current figures, including those I have reported today, tell us that action is needed.

This new variant is so much more easily transmitted that without these tougher restrictions, cases in Scotland would definitely continue to rise very, very sharply.

And that, of course, creates the likelihood that more people get ill and die than would otherwise be the case, but it also creates the real risk that our National Health Service - which is currently coping, although the pressure on frontline staff is considerable – but it creates the real risk that it would instead be overwhelmed and perhaps quite quickly.

So by acting now, instead of waiting until things get more severe, we give ourselves the chance to avert the more serious challenge that is currently being faced in some other parts of the UK right now.

I know that doesn’t provide any comfort, and nor does it create any comfort for me to say that we are not alone – but we are not alone. People in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are waking up today to similar restrictions, and many other countries across Europe are in similar positions.

But, while this is hard for everybody to take we must hold on to the fact – and it is a fact – that we now have, in a way that we didn’t have last year, a clear route out of this pandemic through the vaccination programme.

And the Scottish Government will be doing everything we possibly can to accelerate, speed up that programme, and get the maximum number of people vaccinated as quickly as possible. But while we’re doing that, we absolutely must – all of us – collectively work to slow down this virus

That’s why these measures are essential and it’s why again I must ask everybody to really rigorously abide by all of these restrictions.

That means following the FACTS advice: wear face coverings; avoid crowded places when you are out of your house, which you shouldn’t be unless it is essential; wash your hands, wash hard surfaces, even when you are staying at home it’s really important still to do that; keep a two metre distancing when you’re out, from people in other households; and, of course self-isolate and get tested if you have symptoms.

These steps all still work, in breaking chains of this new variant and remain as important if not more so.

But fundamentally the most important thing – and the most difficult thing – I am asking everybody to do again is to stay at home.

Staying at home helps us control this virus. It helps us protect ourselves and each other. It helps us protect our NHS. And fundamentally, and ultimately, it helps us save lives.

And that, as we have all known all along, is really important. So my concluding message is the as it was back in March - because the situation we face now is as serious as the one we faced back in March.

So, please -

Stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives.

Thank you very much for listening.

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