- 13 Jul 2021
I will update parliament today on the decisions the government has reached in relation to the current Covid restrictions.
In doing that, I will reflect on the mix of positive and more challenging developments we have experienced recently.
And I will emphasise that this is a time for continued caution - for government to take the tough decisions necessary to help safeguard the health and wellbeing of the country.
That means that while Scotland will move to level 0 from next Monday, we will do so with certain modifications to our original indicative plans.
This is intended to ensure that our pace of easing restrictions is sensible in light of the challenge we continue to face from the Delta variant.
And I will confirm that certain mitigations - such as the mandatory wearing of face coverings - will remain in place not just now but, in all likelihood, for some time to come.
It is important to stress that measures like the continued wearing of face coverings are important, not just to give added protection to the population as a whole, but also to give protection and assurance to those amongst us who are particularly vulnerable and who previously had to shield.
Lifting all restrictions and mitigations right now would put all of us at greater risk - but in particular it would make it much more difficult for the most clinically vulnerable to go about their normal lives. It would risk the imposition of shielding by default and, in my view, that is not something we should do.
Before I turn to the detail of all of this, let me summarise today’s statistics.
The total number of positive cases reported yesterday was 2,529 - 11.5% of all tests.
The total number of confirmed cases is now 318,566.
There are currently 506 people in hospital – 37 more than yesterday.
And 41 people are in intensive care - 1 more than yesterday.
Sadly, 4 more deaths were reported in the past 24 hours, taking the total number of deaths registered, under this daily definition, to 7,761 .
As always, my condolences go to everyone who has lost a loved one.
3,941,571 people have now received a first dose of the vaccine - an increase of 7,163 since yesterday.
And 10,286 people got a second dose yesterday, bringing the total number of second doses to 2,903,557.
The continued success of the vaccination programme continues to give us real hope.
We are in the final stages of offering first doses to all adults.
More than 80% of 30 to 39 year olds have had a first dose, along with around two thirds of 18 to 29 year-olds.
All 18 to 29 year olds have now had a first dose appointment scheduled.
Turning to second doses.
Virtually all over 60 year olds have now had both doses – uptake is 96% among 55 to 59 year olds, 89% in 50 to 54 year olds, and 61%, so far, in 40 to 49 year olds.
Second dose appointments are being scheduled for 8 weeks after the first dose – so in the next couple of weeks, coverage of 40 to 49 year olds will get much closer to the levels achieved for older age groups.
Walk-in vaccination centres are now open in all mainland health board areas for anyone over 18 who has not yet received a first dose, or who received a first dose eight weeks or more ago.
I appeal to everyone due to receive a first or second dose to get it as quickly as possible. It is the single most important thing we can all do to protect ourselves and each other.
As I said earlier, in coming to today’s decisions, the government has had to weigh up both positive and more challenging developments. The continued progress of the vaccination programme is obviously positive.
Also encouraging is that case numbers – which were rising sharply two weeks ago – now appear to have levelled off. In fact, they have fallen in recent days.
In the week to 4 July, an average of 3,300 positive cases per day were recorded.
That is now just under 2,700 - a reduction of more than 15%.
However, cases are still high - more than twice the level when I last updated parliament.
And not all cases are confirmed by testing. So although the current fall is encouraging, we continue to monitor all data - including, for example, on wastewater sampling – to get the fullest possible picture.
Another positive is that vaccination is definitely weakening the link between case numbers and severe acute illness.
In January more than 10% of people who tested positive for Covid had to go to hospital. That is now around 3%. It is also the case that people admitted to hospital with Covid are being discharged more quickly.
All of this reflects the fact that a much greater proportion of cases now are in younger people who are much less likely to become seriously ill.
However, for all the welcome signs, there are still reasons to be concerned - and certainly not complacent - about the current level of infection.
Firstly, if case numbers are high, even just 3% ending up in hospital puts pressure on the NHS.
We can see that already.
Three weeks ago, there were 171 people with Covid in hospital, and 18 in intensive care.
Today, it is 506 and 42 respectively.
Hopefully, with new cases starting to fall, we will also see hospital admissions fall over the next few weeks.
But at the moment, the pressure on the NHS is of concern.
First and foremost, it means a significant number of people suffering illness. It also means more pressure on a workforce that has already given so much.
And it holds back NHS recovery. Every hospital bed occupied by a Covid patient is one less bed available to tackle the backlog of non Covid care.
Another reason to take the current level of infection seriously is the risk of long Covid.
Many people, including young people, who get the virus but never need hospital care will still suffer long Covid.
This is a condition that experts still don’t yet fully understand - but we do know that it is causing misery for many.
Indeed, it is one of the main reasons that, in my view, we cannot be complacent about young people getting this virus.
To say that it just doesn’t matter - when we don’t yet fully understand what the long term consequences might be for some young people - would risk treating them as an experiment and it won't surprise anyone to hear that i don't think we should do that.
These are just some of the reasons for continued caution - even as our optimism about the impact of vaccination continues to grow.
That sense of caution is reinforced by looking at the international situation and listening to the WHO.
Several countries across Europe – for example Portugal and Spain – are now dealing with very sharp rises in cases. Holland has just reintroduced restrictions that were lifted at the end of June.
Israel has also seen a significant rise in cases as a result of Delta – despite its very high level of vaccination.
And some countries which did well in suppressing the virus last year – for example in the Asia and Pacific region - are now seeing cases rise. Japan, for example, has decided not to allow spectators at the Olympics.
As the Delta variant becomes more dominant in more countries, we are likely to see resurgences elsewhere too.
There is no doubt that Delta has become, unfortunately, something of a game-changer – even for countries on course to achieving full vaccine protection.
So Covid does remain a threat that we must treat seriously.
The Scottish Government understands, I understand, the temptation to lift more restrictions more quickly - of course we understand that.
But in our view, and in line with clinical advice and modelling, a gradual approach stands the best chance of minimising further health harm and loss of life.
And also because a gradual approach stands the best chance of being a sustainable approach, it will be better in the long term for the economy as well.
So we will continue to ease restrictions, we are not slamming on the breaks, but we will do so carefully.
Let me turn then to the detail of our decisions.
From Monday 19 July, all parts of Scotland not currently there will move to level 0.
However, this move will be made with certain modifications - applied consistently across the country - to ensure that we are not easing up faster than is sensible.
Full details are on our website.
However I will highlight some key points just now
In level 0, up to 8 people from up to 4 households can meet indoors at home - compared to 6 people from 3 households in levels 1 and 2.
Up to 10 people from up to 4 households can meet in a public indoor space – such as a pub or restaurant.
And up to 15 people from up to 15 households can meet outdoors - whether in a private garden or public place.
Children under 12 already don’t count towards the total number of people. From Monday, they will not count towards the total number of households ether.
In level 0 up to 200 people can attend weddings and funerals.
Soft play centres can open – as they could at level 1, but not at level 2.
And for hospitality businesses, at level 0 - unlike in level 2 - there is no requirement for customers to pre-book a two-hour slot to go to a pub or restaurant.
However, customers will still be required to provide contact details to assist Test & Protect. And they will still be required to wear face coverings except when seated.
There will still be limits on the size of events and stadia attendances - but these will increase outdoors to 2000 seated and 1000 standing, and indoors to 400.
As of now, organisers will be able to apply to stage larger events.
Let me turn now to the modifications to our indicative plans.
Firstly, hospitality venues in level 0 - in all parts of Scotland - will require to close at midnight. This is a change to what we had previously indicated for level 0 - that venues should follow local licensing rules.
This reflects the fact that indoor hospitality - despite the sector’s sterling efforts - remains a relatively risky environment, particularly later at night when people may be less likely to follow rules. A midnight closing time represents progress from level 1 and 2 but it will help mitigate some of this risk.
The second modification is to physical distancing. Let me be clear, what I am about to set out applies to public places. We have already removed the requirement to distance for groups of family and friends meeting in private houses or gardens - as long as these are within the permitted limits.
In indoor public places - as indicated previously - where there isn’t already a 1m rule in place, the physical distance requirement will reduce from 2m to 1m and will apply between different household groups.
The main modification is in relation to outdoor public places.
We had hoped to lift physical distancing outdoors completely and, by extension, remove any limit on the numbers who can gather together outdoors.
However, for precautionary reasons at this stage, we intend to keep in place a limit on the size of outdoor group gatherings - as indicated earlier, this will be up to 15 people from up to 15 households.
Because meeting outdoors is less risky than indoors, there will be no requirement to distance within these groups of 15. However, for the next 3 weeks at least, there will be a requirement for 1m distancing between different groups of 15.
The Economy Secretary intends to work with the events sector on guidance to explore how events already organised might still go ahead, with appropriate modifications.
The final and perhaps most substantial modification to what we had indicatively planned relates to working from home.
We had indicated that a gradual return to the office could begin from level 0.
However, given the current situation we intend to postpone this until we move beyond level 0 - which we still hope will be on 9 August.
Until then we will continue to ask employers to support home working where possible.
I know this will be disappointing for many businesses – and also some employees who are finding home-working hard.
But this will reduce the extent to which people are meeting up in enclosed environments or travelling together, and so will help to contain transmission during this phase.
I hope that the move to level 0 – albeit in a modified form – will be welcomed.
It is not a complete and wholesale lifting of all restrictions - it was never intended to be.
However, it does restore yet more freedom to all of us.
Indeed, it is worth emphasising that we are no longer in lockdown - nothing like it. Life is much more normal than at any time since the start of this pandemic.
However, the gradual approach we are taking means that sensible precautions will remain in place to limit transmission while we make even more progress on vaccination.
To that end, as I indicated earlier, we will also keep in place for now certain other measures – such as the requirement to wear face coverings; co-operate with test and protect teams; and comply with advice on good hygiene and ventilation.
On the issue of mandating mitigations like face coverings, let me say this.
It is my view that if government believes measures like this matter - and we do - we should say so, do what is necessary to ensure compliance, and take any resulting flak from those who disagree.
We shouldn’t lift important restrictions to make our lives easier and then expect the public to take responsibility for doing the right thing anyway.
I have addressed today the move to level 0.
We previously indicated that we hope to move beyond level 0 on 9 August. That remains our expectation.
By then almost everyone over the age of 40 will have had their second vaccine dose at least two weeks previously.
However, as with today’s decisions, we will assess the data before coming to a final decision nearer the time, and I will provide a further update to Parliament in the week before 9 August.
Finally, today I want to confirm our future intentions in relation to the requirement for close contacts of positive cases to self isolate. We know how onerous and disruptive this is.
So, firstly, when we move beyond level 0, we intend to remove the blanket requirement for close contacts to self isolate, as long as they are double vaccinated - with at least two weeks having passed since the second dose - and take a PCR test that comes back negative. We will publish guidance on the practical operation of this shortly.
Secondly, as part of our wider preparations for the new academic term, we have asked our education advisory group for advice on whether, to what extent and with what mitigations we can remove the self isolation requirement for young people in education settings who are close contacts of positive cases. We will set out our conclusions well in advance of the new term.
We are of course still waiting for advice from the JCVI on whether children over 12 should be vaccinated.
Lastly, from next Monday, 19 July, self-isolation will no longer be required for people arriving from countries on the amber list, provided they are fully vaccinated through a UK vaccination programme and take a PCR test on the second day after arrival.
We will continue to take a precautionary approach to the inclusion of countries on the amber list.
And, notwithstanding this change, we continue to advise against non essential overseas travel at this time.
For the avoidance of doubt, let me be clear that anyone testing positive for, or experiencing symptoms of, Covid will still require to isolate for ten days.
The decisions I am setting out today show that – despite the impact of Delta – vaccination is allowing us to continue easing restrictions, albeit cautiously.
That will be a relief to the vast majority. But it will be a source of anxiety to some.
So let me address again those at the highest clinical risk – many of whom previously shielded.
I know that many of you feel anxious about any easing of restrictions - particularly if you cannot have the vaccine; or have conditions, or are on treatments, that suppress your immune system.
The Scottish Government is very aware of that. We will not abandon you.
For as long as necessary we will ask people to take sensible precautions - like the wearing of face coverings - to allow you, like everyone else, to enjoy more normal life again.
We are also launching a survey this week for those on the highest risk list to tell us what additional support you need.
And the Chief Medical Officer will write to you this week with further advice.
Lastly, we know that there are around 13,000 people at high clinical risk who haven’t yet had both doses of vaccine.
If you are one of them – and if you are able to get the vaccine – please do so.
That final note of caution explains again the careful balance at the heart of our decisions today.
The vaccination programme is working, it definitely is working, and that gives us confidence to ease restrictions further.
But case numbers are still high. Covid still poses a risk to the health of many.
In the race between the vaccine and the virus, we believe the vaccine will win. But we cannot allow the virus to run too far ahead.
So we must stick to a cautious approach.
We are easing restrictions next week – but we are not abandoning them.
And even when we move beyond level 0, we will continue to require some baseline measures such as face coverings for a period longer.
I will end by emphasising again what we can all can do to protect each other.
First, get vaccinated. If you are over 18 and haven’t had a first dose appointment - or if you are 8 weeks or more from your second dose - register on the NHS Inform website for an appointment or go to a drop-in clinic.
Second, please get tested regularly.
Free lateral flow tests are available by post through NHS Inform, or for collection from test sites and local pharmacies.
If you test positive through one of these devices - or if you have symptoms - make sure you self-isolate, and book a PCR test as quickly as possible.
Third, stick to the remaining rules, and follow basic hygiene measures.
Meet other people outdoors as much as possible.
If you are meeting indoors, stick to the limits on group sizes. And open windows – the better ventilated a room is, the safer it is.
And remember physical distancing, hand-washing, the cleaning of surfaces, face coverings - all of these basic measures are as important now as ever.
If we do all of this, frustrating though it all continues increasingly to be, we will help protect ourselves and our loved ones. And as we continue to complete the vaccination programme which does offer us still the route back to greater normality, will make it easier for more restrictions to be gradually and sensibly lifted in the weeks ahead.