Good afternoon. Thanks very much for joining us again today.
As usual, I will give you a run through of the daily statistics, starting with the total number of positive cases reported yesterday, that was 1,875, which is 12% of the total number of tests, and means that the number of confirmed cases in Scotland now stands at 153,423.
607 of the new cases were in Greater Glasgow and Clyde, 280 in Lanarkshire, 214 in Lothian, and 162 in Ayrshire and Arran.
The remaining cases are spread across nine other health board areas.
As of yesterday, I can also confirm that 175,942 people had received their first dose of vaccine.
I can also confirm tell you today that 1,717 people are currently in hospital – that is 53 more than yesterday.
That compares to a peak of just over 1,500 in the first wave back in April - so again we can see the very acute pressure that COVID is currently putting on our hospitals across the country.
133 people are receiving intensive care, which is an increase of seven from yesterday.
And I’m very sorry to report that 54 additional deaths have been registered in the past 24 hours, of patients who first tested positive over the previous 28 days and that takes the total number of deaths, under this measurement, to 5,023.
This is always, obviously, a distressing figure to report to you every day but it’s particularly distressing today because the numbers that I have just reported take the total number of deaths under this daily measurement now to more than 5,000, which is another reminder of the heart-breaking toll that this virus has taken, and is continuing to take, across the country.
Every single death is causing heartbreak to families, friends, loved ones and I want, again today, to convey my thoughts and condolences to everybody who finds themselves in that position.
Now, I am joined today, as you can see, by the National Clinical Director. He is going to talk in a moment about NHS screening programmes for conditions such as breast cancer.
In doing that he will highlight that our screening programmes are still running - and anyone who has a screening appointment should turn up to it, if at all possible.
Those are of course very important messages, so if you are due to be screened, I would strongly encourage you to follow that advice.
Before Jason speaks, though, I have got a few brief points that I want to update on.
The first is that I have just, earlier this morning, chaired the weekly meeting of the Scottish Cabinet.
As I indicated yesterday, one of the things we discussed was whether there are any areas – takeaway, click and collect services being two examples - where we think there is a need to further tighten restrictions, to reduce the occasions and reasons for people to be out of their homes at the moment.
We are continuing to consider these options a little bit further, and I can tell you that I will update Parliament tomorrow on any decisions that we reach over the course of the day.
The second item I want to highlight is pre-departure testing for people who are travelling to Scotland from other countries.
We confirmed last week that we would introduce a requirement for pre-departure testing for anybody travelling here from overseas.
This requirement, I can confirm today, will come into effect on Friday morning. So anyone arriving in Scotland, after four o’clock on Friday morning on Friday, will be required to present evidence that they have received a negative test result, from a COVID test that has been taken in the previous three days.
The nature of the test will be set out in regulations, but it will need to be highly reliable. That means, in practice, that the tests required will almost certainly be PCR tests.
There will be some limited exemptions from the requirement for a test – for example for younger children – but the details of who exactly might be exempt will be set out on the Scottish Government website.
Now I want to be very clear here that this requirement for testing before entry to the country is seen, not as a substitute for other protections and mitigations in place, but as an addition to those. Testing before entry to the country is not a magic solution to the risk of cases being imported - so it will reinforce, rather than replace, our current travel restrictions.
In particular anyone travelling to Scotland from a country that is not on the exemption list, will still require to quarantine, to self-isolate, for 10 days on arrival.
And of course any of these mitigations and protections should only be applying right now to a very small number of people. In short, people who have an essential purpose to be travelling. The most important point of all, I can make in relation to travel, remains this one. We should not, as a general rule, be travelling in and out of Scotland right now, just as we should not be travelling freely within the country
It is only legal to travel to or from the country if you are doing so for an essential purpose. So the fundamental advice remains - do not travel right now, unless you have a genuinely essential purpose; stay at home.
Now, the third issue I want to touch on is support for businesses. The Finance Secretary announced yesterday details of top up grants that are being made available to businesses in the hospitality, retail and leisure sectors. These are worth up to £25,000 for larger premises.
I can confirm today though that we are also making some one-off additional support available in level 3 areas - so this affects businesses in Orkney, Shetland, the Western Isles and some Hebridean islands such as Mull, Jura and Islay, as you recall, these are the only parts of the country, right now, that are not in the tight level 4 restrictions.
And the reason to make more support available there, is that in these areas, although they are not under quite as tight restrictions as mainland Scotland, businesses are often just as badly affected. Hospitality for example, is just as affected because even although it might not be under the same restrictions, travel is restricted and therefore the impact is quite severe, so it is important that our compensation arrangements take account of that.
So we will be allocating approximately £3 million to local authorities so that they are better able to support affected businesses.
The latest set of restrictions, I know, have been incredibly tough for businesses across the economy – perhaps particularly for those in the hospitality, retail and leisure sectors and we remain committed to working with those sectors, to help them, as much as we can, get through the coming months.
So I hope that the announcements made yesterday and today, reassure them of that commitment - as well as providing them with vital financial support.
Now the final issue I want to touch on, relates to one of the ways in which we try to track the course of the pandemic in Scotland.
In August, for those of you who have been regular viewers of these briefings, you may recall that we established two online surveys.
The surveys ask about a range of different topics – for example how much contact people have with each other, and the extent to which people are using face coverings.
These surveys have enabled us to identify, and respond to, emerging issues. For example knowing whether people are meeting up more often or less often, is an early indication for us of whether we might see a rise in transmission rates two or three weeks down the line.
We are now seeking more volunteers for the surveys. We need 3,000 more volunteers. So if you are interested in taking part, please look at the Scottish Government’s Twitter feed, where you will find details of how to volunteer.
I should say that the surveys are not especially time-consuming – you are asked to complete one every two weeks.
But they are a really important, and really helpful way, in which you can help us to understand the course of the pandemic and therefore help to inform and shape the decisions that we have to take to try to keep the country as safe as possible and steer it through the next phase of the pandemic.
So I would encourage you to look at our Twitter feed now or in the next few days, and if you have the time and the inclination, although it doesn’t take a lot of time, please consider signing up. You will be doing a lot to help, not just the government but by extension the whole country, get through this next period.
Now, I am going to hand over to Jason in a moment. But before that, let me just emphasise again our key public health advice.
The main message at the moment is a very simple one but it is a vital one, you see it in front of me on the podium right now – stay at home.
In almost all of Scotland, certainly all of mainland Scotland apart from the islands I spoke about a moment ago, you must only leave home for genuinely essential purposes right now. That includes caring responsibilities, work that genuinely can’t be done at home, essential shopping, and exercise.
If you meet up with someone outdoors, you should only meet with one other person from one other household.
And I would repeat and underline the point I made yesterday. Going out for exercise should be that right now, not going out to socialise in a park or on a beach. Particularly not going to places that might be crowded. I know that’s really hard but it is important, the stay at home rule right now, is intended to stop people interacting. That is, unfortunately, outside, just as it is inside.
In addition please work from home if you possibly can and to employers, enable and facilitate your staff to work from home if you can.
And of course remember the FACTS advice.
- wear face coverings when you are out and about, for example doing essential shopping, I welcome some of the announcements and commitments made by some supermarkets yesterday to make sure that they’re playing their part in helping encourage the use of face coverings;
- avoid places that are busy, that includes parks outdoors;
- clean your hands regularly and clean your surfaces regularly;
- keep two metres distance if you are with somebody from another household;
- and remember self-isolate and get tested if you have any of the symptoms of COVID.
All of these measures are still effective, even against this faster-spreading variant of the virus and it’s really important that we remember them. On the faster-spreading variant, our most recent statistics suggest that that is now the dominant strain circulating in Scotland. Over 60% of cases in our most recent days have been of that new variant using the proxy S gene dropout test that is used. So that’s why it is more important that in any occasion we are out, we are taking all of these mitigating steps.
But fundamentally the best way of protecting yourselves, others and the NHS right now, is to stay at home. I cannot emphasise that strongly enough.
So please - stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives.
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