Coronavirus (COVID-19) update: First Minister's statement - 17 March 2021

Statement given by the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at St Andrew's House, Edinburgh on Wednesday 17 March 2021. 

Good afternoon and thanks for joining us. I am joined today by the Chief Medical Officer who will help me to answer questions in a few moments.

Before that, I will update you on a few issues. And start as I always do with today’s statistics.

625 positive cases were reported yesterday. That is 3% of the total number of tests, and it means that the overall number of confirmed cases is now 211,230.

Of the new cases reported yesterday, 179 of them were in Greater Glasgow and Clyde, 105 in Lothian and 97 in Lanarkshire.

The rest are spread across 9 other health board areas.

422 people are currently in hospital – that is 18 fewer than yesterday.

38 people are in intensive care, that is down 4 on the figure reported yesterday.

 I am sorry to say that 12 further deaths were reported yesterday. That takes the total number of deaths registered, under the definition used in our daily figures, to 7,529.

National Records of Scotland has just published its weekly update – and you will recall that includes cases where Covid is a suspected or contributory cause of death not just deaths that have 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 9,831.  

104 of those were registered last week. That is 38 fewer than in the previous week.

Of the deaths registered last week, 86 occurred in hospital; 14 were in care homes; and 4 were at home or in a non-institutional setting.

The continued decline in deaths is very welcome. Deaths have now fallen by more than three quarters since the third week of January. This week is the first time in a long time that the number of deaths have been below the five year average for this time of year.

This provides further evidence of the effectiveness of the vaccination programme, it is obviously very positive.

That said, we shouldn’t forget that the virus is still causing heartbreak to families across the country. We are still seeing people lose their lives from it. Once again, I want to send my condolences to all those who have lost a loved one.

Next Tuesday we will mark the first anniversary of lockdown last year. On that day the whole nation will be invited to take part in a moment’s silence when we can remember those we have lost and also reflect on the sacrifices that people have made over the last year.  

Let me also now give you an update on our latest vaccination figures.

As of 8.30 this morning, 1,981,818 people have received their first dose of the vaccine.

That is an increase of 38,311 since yesterday in first doses.

In addition, 10,987 people received a second dose yesterday, that brings the total number of second doses to 181,879.  

Virtually all over 65 year olds have now has a first dose of the vaccine.

And as of this morning, so to have 67% of 60-64 year olds; 42% of 55 to 59 year olds; and 34% of 50 to 54 year olds.

The figures I’ve just reported show that more than 40,000 people received vaccinations yesterday in total. That is the highest number in a single day we have reported for some time, and shows that the programme is accelerating again as supplies have picked up.

By the middle of April, we still expect to have offered a first dose to everybody over 50; all unpaid carers; and all adults with particular underlying health conditions. And that will be a significant milestone because that will cover a significant majority of the Scottish adult population but it will also cover groups that taken together account for 99% of all the COVID related deaths. That’s a key milestone we are working hard to reach.

There are three issues I want to cover today. The first relates to testing.

As we start – carefully, cautiously, gradually – to take steps out of lockdown, we will rely on a high quality test and protect system – which identifies people who have Covid; finds their contacts; and gets those contacts to self isolate so that we’re breaking the chains of transmission.

Today we are publishing an updated testing strategy for Scotland.

It provides more details of the testing that is already in place for workers in key public services - including our hospitals and care homes - and in businesses that we think are potentially susceptible or more susceptible to outbreaks, and businesses which are of great importance to keeping Scotland going – food processing and distribution for example.

The strategy also gives information about the testing that is being made available for children and young people in secondary schools, and for staff in all schools, nurseries and childcare facilities.

And it sets out how we are working with local authorities to make testing available to people without symptoms, and targeting that at particular  communities across the country because that’s an important additional way of trying to get high levels of prevalence down where perhaps you have communities where it is higher than in the country overall or where it is stubbornly high.

Finally, this is the point I wanted particularly to point out to you today, the strategy provides details of a new genomic sequencing service that we will establish in Scotland.

Genomic sequencing is something that we have discussed at these briefings before. It enables us to identify the specific variations or characteristics of a virus within a specific sample.

It’s really important in identifying new strains and variants. And that has been important in recent weeks to make sure we’re all aware of any new variants that are causing concern.

It will also help test and protect teams to take steps, to try to stop those new variants from spreading in the wider community.

Scotland and indeed the whole UK already have extremely advanced genomic sequencing capabilities, probably amongst the best in the whole world.

In order to build on those capabilities, we are investing £13 million over the next year to establish a new sequencing centre, which will ultimately be capable of sequencing up to 1000 samples every day. That is going to be really important in this next phase of the pandemic, helping us to identify new variants at as early a stage as possible, so that we can try – where those variants are a concern – to make as sure as we can that they don’t get a foothold into the community and start to spread more widely.

As we look to the longer term, this centre will also support our preparedness for any future pandemics, and indeed for any other possible public health threats.

It is going to play an important role in the next phase of this pandemic, and it will also be a valuable asset for the country in the years to come and I thought it was worth just taking a bit of time to set that out today.   

The second point I want to cover relates to shielding. Yesterday in Parliament I set out  some of this, but I want to provide a bit more detail today.

We expect that people who are on the shielding list should be able to return to their workplace - if they cannot work from home - from 26 April.

However until then, if you cannot work from home, you should stay away from the workplace.

In addition, children and young people on the shielding list should not attend school or childcare services until the 26th of April. And students on the shielding list should not attend college or university in person until that date.

I want to stress that this advice currently applies - even if you have had one or both doses of the vaccine.

The Chief Medical Officer will be writing this week to all people on the shielding list to give some more detail of that guidance I have just summarised.

And as before, that letter will also act as a fit note. That means that it will serve as proof for your employer that you cannot go to work, if you need to provide that.

By the 26th of April, we hope and expect that people on the shielding list will be able to return to work – if they cannot work from home – and to go back to university, college, school or nursery. And I know that will be very welcome for people who have had to bear I think a disproportionate burden of dealing with this virus over the last year.

But until then, please follow the current guidance. And if you need additional advice and support, please check the shielding pages at

I am really grateful, and I want to emphasis this point, to everybody on the shielding list for your forbearance and patience during the last year. I hope that you - like everyone else - are starting to feel a little bit less anxious, and I hope you also have that sense while there is still a few weeks to go there is brighter days ahead for you as there is for the rest of the country.

And that is the point I would like to finish on.

As I set out yesterday in Parliament, I believe that the progress of vaccination, does now give us stronger sense of optimism than we have had for some time.

That is why I was able to give details yesterday of what we can expect to see over the next couple of months.

We expect that from the 2 April the stay at home rule will be replaced by stay local guidance. On the 5th of April we expect to see the reopening of hairdressers and barbers and to take the first steps in the reopening of retail services.

In the weeks after that, from 26 April, we expect that shops will reopen fully, and hospitality services will start to reopen as well.

And at that point we hope that travel restrictions – at least within mainland Scotland – will be lifted we will all have a bit more freedom in how we meet up with others.

I was also able to set out yesterday our hope – although all of this as always depends on the course of the pandemic – that we will move to lower level of restrictions as we enter June, before progressing to a much more normal way of life during the summer.

I do think that should  give all of us some cause for optimism right now. But as always – and I know this is the bit that people are less keen to hear – that optimism has to be balanced by caution.

We have seen, and I set this out in Parliament yesterday, a bit of an uptick in cases over the last week or so. That’s a really stark reminder to all of us that we can’t be complacent against this virus and we must not ease up too soon, because if we do that the risk we face right now is that things start to go in the wrong direction and that will set us all back. None of us want that to happen.

So we still need to remember that we need to suppress the virus right now while vaccines do their work so we then can come out of lockdown in that indicative timeline safely.

So please, for now – and I know how difficult that is – continue to stick to the tough rules and guidance that are in place.

Until 2 April, our message continues to be to stay at home except for essential purposes. Don’t meet up with other households inside and on any occasion you are outdoors, stick to the limits. It’s now 4 people from 2 households allowed to meet outdoors. And always remember FACTS.

  • wear face coverings when you are doing essential shopping;
  • avoid anywhere busy;
  • clean hands and surfaces;
  • use two metre distancing
  • and self-isolate and book a test if you have symptoms.

We are now on the right track. There is no doubt about that. But staying on the right track and continuing to go forward down that track depends on, as it always has done, on all of us. The vaccination programme will increasingly do more of that work for us but until it gets to the point where it can take that strain, we all need to continue to do these things to keep the virus as bay.

So my thanks as always to all of you for complying with all of this, for doing all of these really difficult things. As you do it over the next few weeks let’s all keep our eyes firmly on that brighter horizon that I think does now lie ahead of us.

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