Good afternoon and thanks for joining us again today.
As usual, I will take you through today’s statistics.
Yesterday, there were 456 positive cases reported, which is
4.7% of the total number of tests, and means the total overall number of confirmed cases is now 210,008.
138 of the new cases yesterday were in Greater Glasgow and Clyde, 76 in Lanarkshire, and 70 in Lothian.
And the remaining cases were across 9 other health board areas.
447 patients are currently in hospital, which is 14 fewer than yesterday, and 40 people are in intensive care, that’s the same number as yesterday.
I can also report that no deaths were reported yesterday of patients who had tested positive over the previous 28 days.
Of course, as you know by now we often report a relative low number of deaths on a Monday, because registration offices tend to be closed over the weekend.
Since last Friday’s update, a total of 10 deaths have been registered and that takes the total number of deaths registered, under the definition that we use in these daily figures, to 7,510.
Once again today I want to convey my condolences to everyone who has suffered a bereavement because of Covid.
I am joined today by the Chief Medical Officer, who will shortly help me answer questions.
Before that though, there are two issues I want to cover.
The first relates to vaccination.
We are of course – as I’m sure you are too - aware that some countries, most recently the Netherlands and the Republic of Ireland, have paused their use of the AstraZeneca vaccine. You might be hearing reports of this in the media and you might have concerns as a result. So I wanted to take the opportunity today to address this directly.
In the UK, the decision to suspend the use of any vaccine is a matter for the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency.
The MHRA has confirmed to us that there is no current evidence of an increase in blood clots being caused by the AstraZeneca vaccine. That is the issue that has caused the pause in some other countries. As you would expect, though, the MHRA is continuing to monitor this carefully, and it remains in regular contact with other regulators.
There is, however, significant and growing evidence of the benefits of vaccination in reducing death, illness and we hope now, reducing transmission as well - and the vaccination programme continues to make very good progress.
So for all these reasons and based on the advice and opinion of the MHRA, we continue to urge people to come forward for vaccination included with the AstraZeneca vaccine when you are invited to do so.
Indeed, I can confirm that, as of 8.30 this morning, 1,908,991 people in Scotland have received the first dose of the vaccine.
That is an increase of 20,294 since yesterday.
In addition, 1,907 people yesterday received the second dose, which brings the total number of second doses now to 161,945.
So as of now, virtually all people over the age of 65 have had the first dose of the vaccine.
So too have 53% of 60-64 year olds; 41% of 55 to 59 year olds; and 33% of 50 to 54 year olds.
As the Health Secretary indicated when she was here on Friday, we expect the pace of vaccination to pick up significantly again this week in line with increased supplies.
So we are expecting that, taking first and second doses together, there will be around 400,000 vaccinations done over the course of this week.
And that represents a significant increase on the level of vaccination that we’ve seen over the past couple of weeks.
And supplies permitting, that increase is likely to be continue into April, which means that by the middle of April, we are still on track to have offered a first dose of the vaccine to everybody over the age of 50; all unpaid carers and all adults who have particular underlying health conditions.
And that target, if – when, as I expect - we meet that target will be a really significant milestone.
That rapid progress with vaccination provides all of us with firmer grounds for hope about the weeks and months ahead.
We are already seeing the impact of vaccination in reducing deaths.
And the major Public Health Scotland study that was published last week in partnership with the University of Glasgow, also shows that vaccination can significantly reduce transmission of the virus.
That gives us greater confidence that – as more and more people receive first doses – we will have some scope to relax restrictions, albeit we will still need to do that carefully.
Now that confidence is reinforced by the fact that over the past three weeks - as a result of the restrictions we are all living under - we have been successful in suppressing the virus further.
That said – and this is quite an important caveat that I need to inject at this point - it is important to note that over the past week, the past seven days, we have actually seen a slight increase in cases. And we will be monitoring that carefully and it does provide us with a reminder that there is still no room for complacency, and that our room for manoeuvre is limited.
Our priority is of course on ensuring that young people can return to school safely.
And today of course sees a further milestone in that, as children in primaries 4 to 7 return to school full time, which means that all primary school children are now back in school.
In addition the phased return to school for secondary school pupils continues today.
Our expectation is that all secondary school children will spend at least a short time in school each week in the short period between now and the Easter holidays. And that is intended to prepare and re-acclimatise young people ahead of the full return to school, which we hope will take place after the Easter holidays.
We have taken a number of steps to ensure that the return to school is a safe one.
For example, we have maintained a requirement for 2 metre distancing in secondary schools before, in the period before, the Easter break.
We have provided guidance on issues such as ventilation in school buildings.
And we are making twice weekly tests available to all school and childcare staff, and to all older secondary school children.
And of course, we recently confirmed that we would work with others in the education sector to extend that testing offer, after the Easter break, to secondary school children in years 1 to 3 as well, so it will be available after Easter to all secondary school pupils.
Now, the next few days I know will be - I hope will be - exciting ones for many children as they see their classmates and their teachers in person again for the first time in months. And I know the next few days will also come as a relief to many parents but I want to take the opportunity to say how grateful I am to all parents and all school staff for the support they have provided over the past few months.
I am well aware that remote learning – as well as some in-person learning - will continue for all secondary school children before Easter.
But I hope that today’s further phased return shows that life is slowly but nevertheless surely beginning to return to some degree of normality.
Now in addition to the phased return to school, we have also started a very cautious easing of the wider lockdown restrictions.
On Friday last week, the rules on outdoor meetings changed – meaning that up to 4 people from two households can now meet outdoors.
I know and I’m very well aware that travel restrictions still mean that not everyone can use this relaxation to see family - but it was good to see some people at least able to use it over the weekend to meet up for mothers’ day.
For 12 to 17 year olds, the rules allow 4 people from up to 4 households to meet outdoors, allowing teenagers to see more of their friends.
Outdoor non-contact sports, and organised outdoor exercise, are also now possible for adults and children aged 12 or over - in groups of up to 15 people.
And of course for children under 11 or aged 11 or under, outdoor contact sports are already allowed.
Now tomorrow, I will not be here at 12.15….I’ll make a statement to Parliament a bit later in the day, around about 2.15pm, and in that statement I will provide some further information about when we expect other restrictions to begin to be lifted.
As I said earlier on, our room for manoeuvre is still quite limited and it is important I am clear with you about that.
However, taking account of that, I will seek to set out some details of what changes we hope to be able to make in early April – hopefully around the 5th of April – and then what further easing we might then expect to see in late April, and then mid May, and in much less detail beyond that.
We cannot provide certainty on everything at this stage, particularly the further into the future we try to look, but we will try to provide as much clarity now as possible.
So, tomorrow’s statement will hopefully help you understand when you can expect to see some of the key early milestones in our route back to normality.
And it will include the proposed date for the end of the “stay at home rule”; the re-opening of shopping; the re-opening of outdoor – probably first - and then indoor hospitality; and further relaxations to the rules about meeting up with other households.
Tomorrow’s statement will I hope, underline the fact that as schools return - and as the most severe of the current restrictions ease - things will start to get a fair bit better in the weeks and months ahead.
That relaxation of restrictions is something that all of us desperately want to see.
But – and this is the point of caution I need to continue to stress to you - we can’t afford to simply throw caution to the wind. I know everybody understands that, but it is important that I do continue to stress it. The virus is still out there. We see that, particularly in the last week with a slight increase in cases and of course the virus is more infectious now than when we came out of the lockdown last year.
So taking care, being cautious, being sensible really matters if we are to avoid – which we all want to do - letting the virus run ahead of the vaccine.
If that happens then the danger is we end up having to take some steps backwards, instead of continuing to move forwards. So you will see that hope we now have for the future reflected in tomorrow’s statement but also tempered a bit with continued caution, which is just the necessary mix we need to bring to bear right now to ensure that our momentum out of lockdown might not be as fast as we all wish it could be, but it will be steady and firmly moving in a forward direction.
But for now, the overall message continues to be to stay at home, except for essential purposes.
We are continuing to ask people not to meet up with other households indoors.
If you do meet outdoors, then make sure you are complying with the four people from two households…and on any occasion when you are out, remember the FACTS advice.
- wear a face covering;
- avoid places that are crowded;
- clean your hands and surfaces regularly – perhaps this is a time to remind ourselves to do that as we start going out and about a bit more;
- use two metre distancing
- and of course it’s still really important to remember to self-isolate and get tested if you have of the symptoms of Covid.
For now, please stay at home as much as possible so we continue that downward pressure on the virus as our vaccination programme picks up pace again this week and gets to as many people as possible as quickly as possible.
Thank you again for everything you are doing. I know it gets more frustrating and we all get more impatient every day that passes but we are going, we hope, in the right direction and if we stick with it then by the summer I’m very hopefully we will have a much greater degree of normality in our everyday lives.
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