- 13 Jan 2021
I want to update the chamber on the current position in relation to Covid.
I must stress at the outset that the situation we face in relation to the virus remains very precarious and extremely serious.
Therefore, in order to maximise our chances of effectively suppressing the virus, I will set out today some further tightening of the lockdown restrictions.
Firstly, though, I will give a brief summary of today’s statistics.
The total number of positive cases reported yesterday was 1,949.
That represents 10.2% of all tests carried out, and takes the total number of cases to 155,372.
I can also confirm that as of yesterday, 191,965 people had received their first dose of vaccine.
1794 people are now in hospital with Covid which is 77 more than yesterday.
And I can tell the Chamber that 1005 patients were admitted to hospital in the week up to the 7th January alone, that compares to 851 in the last week of December.
134 people are currently in intensive care, which is one more than yesterday.
And all of these figures of course underline the severity of the pressure on the National Health Service and the fact that it is increasing.
I’m also very sad to report that in the last 24 hours, a further 79 deaths have been registered of patients who first tested positive in the previous 28 days.
The total number of deaths, under this measure, is now 5,102.
National Records of Scotland has also just published its weekly update. This includes cases where COVID is a suspected or contributory cause of death, even if it has not been 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 7,074.
384 of those deaths were registered last week.
That is 197 more than in the previous week, and is the highest weekly figure we have recorded since May.
Some of the increase may be down to people registering deaths last week which had occurred over the Christmas and New Year period. But even so, this figure is heartbreakingly high.
It reminds us again of the grief that this virus continues to cause.
Once again, I send my condolences to all those who have lost a loved one during this pandemic.
Earlier, the Cabinet Secretary for Health made a detailed statement about our vaccination programme.
As I give today’s statement – which will inevitably focus on the sacrifices we are asking of people - it is worth highlighting some of the key points that she made.
We have already vaccinated more than 80% of care home residents in Scotland, and more than half of frontline health and social care workers.
The vaccination of those over the age of 80 is underway and gathering speed.
First doses for the over 80s will be completed by the start of February.
Everyone aged over 70 will have been offered vaccination by mid-February.
And it is our aim to vaccinate all over 65s and those with extreme clinical vulnerability by the end of February.
This means that by the start of March, 1.4 million people will have received at least the first dose of vaccine.
To support this, more than 1100 vaccination centres in Scotland are already operational. That number will increase - with mass centres opening too - as supplies increase.
All of this is positive.
Vaccination offers us a route back to a more normal life, and gives us real hope for the future.
But for now, we are in a race against the virus.
To win this race, we must complete the vaccination programme as quickly as possible - and that is what we will do.
But we must also slow down the virus.
Today’s numbers demonstrate once again why that is necessary.
In early December, we were recording approximately 100 new cases of Covid each week for every hundred thousand people. That figure has almost trebled.
That is mainly because the new variant of Covid – which is much easier to transmit – is spreading rapidly.
The new variant now makes up around 60% of new cases in Scotland - and makes it far more difficult to get the R number back below 1, without severe restrictions.
Of course, we now have severe restrictions in place.
And, while it is still early days, there are some signs that lockdown may be starting to have an effect.
The rapid increase in cases that we saw around the turn of the year appears to have slowed down and begun to stabilise.
That is good news. But at this stage, it can give us no room for complacency.
It is too soon to be entirely confident that the situation is stabilising.
And even if it is, this will only be because of lockdown - it is not, unfortunately, an indication that it is safe to ease it yet in any way.
The number of new cases is still far too high.
And, of course, all of this is having a significant and severe impact on our health service.
With the number of people being infected every day remaining as high as it is, the pressure on the NHS is likely to increase further and continue for some time.
And of course, as I reported a few moments ago, last week saw the highest number of registered deaths from Covid since early May.
So we must continue to do everything possible to reduce case numbers - this is essential to relieve the pressure on our health service and also to save lives.
That is why the Cabinet considered yesterday some further tightening of the lockdown restrictions, to ensure that they can be as effective as they need to be in suppressing the virus.
There are six changes we intend to make. The regulations giving effect to these will, subject to parliament’s approval, take effect on Saturday.
I am aware that some of these changes may sound technical and relatively minor.
However, we believe that both individually and collectively, these additional measures - in further reducing the interactions that allow the virus to spread - will help our essential efforts to suppress it.
And however technical the changes may sound, I know that all of them involve further restrictions on our essential liberties.
So I want to give an assurance again that none of these decisions are arrived at lightly.
Let me set out now what the changes are.
Firstly, we intend to limit the availability and operation of click and collect retail services.
Only retailers selling essential items will be allowed to offer click and collect. This will include, for example, clothes and footwear, baby equipment, homeware and books. All other click and collect services must stop.
More importantly, for click and collect services that are allowed, staggered appointments will need to be offered to avoid any potential for queuing, and access inside premises for collection will not be permitted.
The details will be set down in regulations and in guidance.
I know that businesses affected by this change will be disappointed, and that many have gone to great lengths to make services as safe as possible.
But we must reduce as far as is possible the reasons people have just now for leaving home and coming into contact with others. I welcome the actions of those businesses that have voluntarily suspended click and collect, and tightened their procedures in relation to face coverings.
Secondly, we intend to apply restrictions to takeaway services.
Customers will no longer be permitted to go inside to collect takeaway food or coffee.
Any outlet wishing to offer takeaway will have to do so from a serving hatch or doorway.
This reduces the risk of customers coming into contact indoors with each other, or with staff.
Thirdly, we intend to change the rules around consumption of alcohol.
At the moment, different parts of Scotland have different laws in relation to the consumption of alcohol in outdoor public places.
However, from Saturday, it will be against the law in all level 4 areas of Scotland to drink alcohol outdoors in public.
This will mean, for example, that buying a takeaway pint and drinking it outdoors will not be permitted.
Again, I know this will not be a popular move.
But it is intended to underline and support the fact that we should only be leaving home just now for essential purposes.
That includes exercise or recreation but not simple socialising.
And when you do leave the home, you should only meet one person from another household, in a group no bigger than two people.
I know this is a hard message - and it is not one I want to be sending - but it is vital to reduce the risk of the virus spreading.
Fourthly, and significantly, we intend to strengthen the obligation on employers to allow their staff to work from home whenever possible.
The law already says that we should only be leaving home to go to work if it is work that cannot be done from home.
This is a legal obligation that falls on individuals.
However we will now introduce statutory guidance to make clear to ensure that employers support employees to work from home wherever possible.
For all employers, the basic but vital message is that if your staff were working from home during the first lockdown, they should be working from home now and you should be facilitating that.
Fifth, we will strengthen the provisions in relation to work inside people’s houses.
We have already issued guidance to the effect that in level 4 areas work is only permitted within a private dwelling if it is essential for the upkeep, maintenance and functioning of the household. We will now put this guidance into law.
The final change is an amendment to the regulations requiring people to stay at home.
However, this is intended to close an apparent loophole rather than change the spirit of the law. It will also bring the wording of the stay at home regulations in Scotland into line with the other UK nations.
Right now, the law states that people can only leave home for an essential purpose.
However, having left home for an essential purpose, someone could then stay out of their home to do something that is not essential without breaching the law as it stands.
So the amendment will make it clear that people must not leave or remain outside the home unless it is for an essential purpose.
This change will provide legal clarity to facilitate any necessary enforcement.
I want to be clear though that this does not change the range of essential purposes that currently enable people to leave their house - nor does it, for example, put any time limit on how long you can be outdoors for essential exercise.
But it does mean that if the police challenge you for being out of the house doing something that is not essential, it will not be a defence to say you initially left the house to do something that was essential.
I know that none of this makes for enjoyable listening.
If it is any comfort - though I don’t expect it will be - it gives me no pleasure to be talking about further restrictions on businesses and on our individual freedoms to come and go as we please.
But please know that we would be doing none of this, if we did not believe it essential to get and keep this potentially deadly virus under control.
Case numbers are still so high – and the new variant is so infectious – that we must be as tough and as effective as we can be to stop it spreading.
That means taking further steps to stop people from meeting and interacting, indoors and also outdoors.
Today’s measures will help us to achieve that. They are a regrettable, but necessary, means to an end.
In concluding, I want to stress once again that though these are dark and difficult times, we also have genuine grounds for hope.
As I indicated earlier, there are some early signs that the lockdown is beginning to have an effect. So we must stick with it.
In addition, vaccination is already protecting a lot of the people who are most vulnerable to this virus - and it will protect many more in the weeks and months ahead.
And finally, however hopeless this situation make us all feel at times, the fact is none of us are powerless in the face of this virus.
We can’t guarantee that we won’t get or pass on Covid - it is a highly infectious virus.
But we can all behave in a way that significantly reduces our risk of getting it or passing it on.
So please, continue to do that.
And - I want to stress this point - please stick to the spirit, not just the letter, of the rules.
Don’t think in terms of the maximum interactions you can have without breaking the rules.
Think instead about how you minimise your interactions to the bare essentials to remove as many opportunities as possible for the virus to spread.
And in everything you do, assume that the virus is there with you - that either you have it or any person you are in contact with has it - and act in a way that prevents it passing between you.
All of this means staying at home except for genuinely essential purposes - including working from home whenever possible.
Except for essential purposes, do not have people from other households in your house and do not go into theirs.
And follow the FACTS advice at all times when you are out and about.
This is how we keep ourselves and our loved ones safe. And it is how we keep the virus under control until the vaccines do their work.
So at this critical and dangerous moment, please -
Stay Home. Protect the NHS. Save lives.