Good afternoon. Welcome to today’s update.
I will start as usual with today’s statistics.
There were 734 cases reported yesterday, which is 7.6% of the total number of tests that were carried out, and takes the total number of confirmed cases now to 106,904.
213 of today’s cases were in Greater Glasgow and Clyde, 135 in Lothian, and 95 in Lanarkshire.
The remaining cases are spread across nine other health board areas.
There are 1,012 people are currently in hospital, which is a decrease of three from yesterday and 46 people are in intensive care, that’s one fewer than yesterday.
And finally, no additional deaths were registered in the past 24 hours, of patients who first tested positive over the previous 28 days.
I would though remind you that registration offices tend to be closed at weekends, so the figures that are reported for deaths on Sundays and Mondays are often artificially low as a result of that.
Since last Friday’s update, 41 deaths have been registered, which takes the total number of deaths, under this daily measurement, now to 4,111.
Of course, that figure reminds us again why we really do need to keep the virus under control. It still causes heartbreak to families across the country and I want, again, to send my condolences to everyone who has suffered loss as a result of it.
Now tomorrow, as I usually do on a Tuesday, I will make a statement in Parliament on the outcome of the latest review of the levels of protection applying in each local authority.
For today, though, there are three items that I want to take the opportunity to update on.
The first is to say that, from today, the Protect Scotland app can now be downloaded by any secondary school pupil.
Previously, you had to be at least 16 years old to have the app downloaded to your phone, so only older secondary school students could download it. But now it is available to all.
Downloading is very straightforward – it takes less than 2 minutes to do and the app has already been downloaded by more than 1.7 million people across the country.
And it has notified more than 20,000 people of the need to self-isolate – and of course that will include people, who would not otherwise have known that they had been in contact with a positive case and had to self-isolate.
So by downloading the app, young people will be helping to control and mitigate any outbreaks amongst young people and I think that will be particularly important over holiday periods.
I realise that there won’t be many, if any, secondary school students watching this right now - but if any parents or grandparents are watching, please encourage your children or grandchildren to download the app. It is a simple way that all of us can help tackle COVID.
The second point I want to highlight, is that the next stage the vaccination programme in Scotland is now under way.
In the past six days, more than 18,000 vaccinators and health and care workers have received the first dose of the vaccine against COVID.
And today, the first vaccinations of care home residents and staff are taking place.
90 year old Annie Innes became the first care home resident to get the vaccine, at the Abercorn House Care Home in Hamilton and my thanks go to her.
She will be followed in the weeks to come by many others.
Care home residents and staff are being prioritised for vaccination, from our current supplies of the vaccine.
That is obviously a hugely important step in protecting many of the people who are most at risk from this virus.
From Wednesday, we will provide weekly updates on the progress of the vaccination programme.
So today, we have further good and positive news, but it is still important for me to stress a couple of things, firstly that our progress in vaccinating people, obviously depends on the supply of vaccines that we get.
We are very hopeful that other vaccines – in addition to the Pfizer one, that is being used now - will soon meet the stringent health, quality and effectiveness standards set by the regulatory authority and these vaccines include that developed by Moderna, and the one being developed by Oxford/AstraZeneca.
If these are approved, that will obviously further increase our ability to vaccinate people.
For the moment, however, and this is the second point I need to stress, although today is an important day, and gives us all yet more hope for the future, we are still some way off a complete return to normal life.
COVID still presents a real and present danger. The figures we report every day are evidence of that. We are not yet out of the woods.
That is the case, not just for us, but for countries around the world. Over the weekend, we have seen, for example, Germany announce a further very stringent lockdown.
And there is speculation that this week, the whole of London will go into England’s highest tier of protection - which includes full closure of hospitality.
So, with most of winter still ahead of us, and this virus still circulating here at home but also globally, it is more vital than ever that we all stick to the current guidelines and restrictions, to keep each other and the country as a whole as safe as we possibly can.
That leads to the final point I want to raise, which is about the forthcoming Christmas period.
As you know, as we’ve set out before, the rules on household gatherings are being changed for a five day period from the 23 to the 27 of December, to allow meetings of up to eight people, from up to three households in a bubble.
This is a pragmatic step that seeks to ensure that the decisions some people will feel they have to make over Christmas are as safe as it is possible for them to be.
But meeting up with other households indoors is not risk-free and I have a duty to point that out very clearly.
I want to remind everyone once again, that just because we can visit people indoors over Christmas on a limited basis, doesn’t mean that we have to.
Any indoor meeting between different households, obviously creates a risk.
The virus will not take a break over the Christmas period. So don’t give it the opportunity to jump from household to household, if you can possibly avoid it.
However if you decide that it is essential to meet other people over Christmas, now is the time to start thinking about reducing unnecessary contacts that you might normally be having between now and then.
And that’s particularly the case if you are planning to meet up with any elderly relatives over Christmas.
So, for example, if you usually have a weekly catch-up with a friend in a café – perhaps decide not to have that catch-up this week or next week.
If you are car-sharing at the moment – which of course is something that is always risky and we are advising against – try not to do it over the next couple of weeks, in particular.
By doing all of that, by taking precautions to cut down on unnecessary contacts, obviously there are necessary contacts, work-related for example that some of us have to make. But if we cut down unnecessary contacts, then we reduce any chance of getting the virus and inadvertently passing it on.
The final point about Christmas that I want to stress, and I am sorry that I am starting to sound like the Christmas kill-joy here, might sound obvious, but is really important and that relates to office parties.
Obviously, if you can’t work from home, and you’re sharing a workplace with colleagues right now – I understand why it might be tempting to have some sort of celebration or social gathering at work because this, obviously, has been a really difficult time for everyone.
But office parties – especially if they involve alcohol – present a real risk of transmission.
People are less likely to stick to physical distancing requirements than when they are working, and more likely to pass around food or drinks without perhaps washing their hands as carefully as they should.
So I’m asking everybody please, don’t take these risks.
By far the best way of marking Christmas with your colleagues this year is to do it virtually. It is not as much fun, I appreciate that, but it is much much safer.
And if you can’t do that, then perhaps think about postponing your Christmas celebration until into next year, perhaps the spring or the summer of next year, when hopefully we will be starting to see some greater normality return to our lives.
I know that all of this is really hard - especially at the end of a horrible year, when I think everybody could do with letting their hair down a bit.
But these times are not normal. And it is really important that we get through them as safely as possible.
So please, think about the risks and avoid them as much as possible in the interests of keeping yourselves and others safe.
Hopefully, by this time next year, all of this will be starting to feel like a really bad memory.
But this year, I think it is the case that the best Christmas gift we can give family and friends is, as far as possible, to keep our distance and keep them safe.
And finally, fundamentally all of us, at the moment, need to think every single day about how we keep ourselves safe and each other safe, until the vaccination programme becomes much more widespread.
So for the moment that means sticking to all of the current rules and guidelines.
If you are in any doubt about what they are in your local area, you can use the postcode checker on the Scottish Government website.
But in summary, nobody - outside of islands in level 1 areas - should be visiting each other’s homes, except for very essential purpose - caring responsibilities for example.
If you are meeting people from other households – outdoors or in indoor public places – remember the limit, there should be no more than six people, from a maximum of two households in these groups.
As I said a moment ago, try to avoid car-sharing because we know that the close space of a car can give particular risks of the virus spreading.
Work from home if you can.
Download the Protect Scotland app and now that includes everybody over the age of 11.
And finally, remember FACTS - the key rules that we can all use, to reduce our chances of getting the virus, or of passing it on. So:
- wear your face coverings
- avoid places with crowds of people
- clean your hands surfaces
- keep two metres distance from people in other households
- and self-isolate, and get tested if you have any of the symptoms of COVID.
By following all of these rules, we are all minimising the risks to ourselves but we are also helping to keep others safe as well. So my thanks to everybody for continuing to take these very important steps.
That concludes the update for today. As you can see, I’m joined today by the Health Secretary and the Chief Medical Officer, so without further ado, we’ll move straight to questions today.
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