- 21 May 2021
Good afternoon everyone, thank you for joining us.
I’ve got quite a substantive update for you today so please bear with me and as you can see I am joined by Humza Yousaf our new Health Secretary - and also by Jason Leitch, who will help me answer questions shortly.
Firstly, though, I will give you an assessment of the national picture in relation to the pandemic.
And I will also set out and explain the decisions the Scottish Government has reached today in relation to Moray and the City of Glasgow - and also East Renfrewshire, which has been subject to particularly close examination in recent days.
But firstly I will set out today’s figures.
The total number of positive cases reported yesterday was 414.
212 of these were in the Greater Glasgow and Clyde area, 62 in Lanarkshire, and 48 in Lothian.
The total represents 1.9% of the total number of tests, and takes the total number of confirmed cases in Scotland to 231,282.
Currently 81 people are in hospital – 2 fewer than yesterday.
4 people are in intensive care, 1 down from yesterday.
And no deaths have been reported in the past 24 hours which means that the total number of deaths registered, under the daily definition, remains at 7,664.
But of course, I want, as always, to convey my condolences to everyone who has lost someone as a result of Covid.
Let me touch quickly now on progress in the vaccination programme.
As of this morning, 3,082,251 people across the country have received their first dose of the vaccine.
That is an increase of 18,603 since yesterday.
In addition, 26,968 people got a second dose yesterday, and that brings the total number of second doses to 1,769,040.
Now today’s figures show that, across much of the country, cases remain at relatively low levels. And that is positive, and also the number of people in intensive care and hospital with Covid continues to be lower than it has been for the majority of this year.
That said, there are no grounds at all right now for complacency.
We are seeing an increase in Covid rates just now– not just in Glasgow, although the biggest concentration is in Glasgow. But we are seeing an increase in several parts of the country.
Across Scotland as a whole – new cases have risen over the course of the past week by more than 25%.
And the latest estimate we have of the R number suggests that it might now be slightly above one again.
Although the vaccination programme is proceeding well – and it is proceeding exceptionally well that means, and I want to stress this point, that we should still be really optimistic about the future because of the vaccination programme is going.
But at this stage - and this is something we also have to remember - at this stage less than half of the adult population has had both of the vaccine doses, and there are many younger people have not yet had their first dose of the vaccine.
So while we extend the coverage of vaccination further and we are doing that as quickly as supplies allow – it is still really important to be cautious.
And that is particularly so in light of the impact of the so-called Indian variant of the virus- which from now on I will refer to as the April-02 variant.
Now in recent weeks, this variant has become established in several parts of the UK – including here in Scotland - and we have reason to believe that it might be even more transmissible than the Kent variant which spread so rapidly, you will recall, over the winter period.
In recent days, the Health Secretary and I have been discussing the current position in depth, as you would expect, with our clinical advisers.
And we have been paying particular attention to the situation in Moray and in the city of Glasgow - these are the only two parts of Scotland which right now are currently in level 3 of our levels of protection.
But we have also been paying some close attention to East Renfrewshire, which has in the past few days also seen a steep rise in cases.
And I want to talk about each of these three areas in turn.
Before I do so I and I’ll return to this point later on. We look, of course, at the headline figures at the raw figures. But as we make decisions we also look in detail at what underlies these raw figures, because sometimes because of the difference size of these areas the raw figures can mask a much more complex situation.
So I’d ask you to bear that in mind.
But if I can turn to Moray first of all.
I am very pleased to say that the situation in Moray has actually improved very significantly.
Last week, the area was reporting 98 new cases a week, per hundred thousand of its population. That has now fallen to 37.
Test positivity has also fallen quite markedly - from 2.8% a week ago to 1.3% now.
In addition, and this point is quite important, the April 02 variant does not seem to be as commonly present in Moray as it is in Glasgow and indeed in some other parts of the country.
So I am able to confirm today that Moray will now move down from level 3 to Level 2 and this decision will take effect from midnight tonight.
This I know will be welcome news for people and businesses in Moray - for very good reasons they have had to wait longer to go into Level 2.
This progress has been made possible by the efforts of local public health teams, their partners, and of course the public - and I am grateful to everyone who has played their part.
I would say though, that it’s important to continue to be careful, being in Level 2 still comes with necessary restrictions. So please stick to those as you have stuck to level 3 rules, and do everything you can to help Moray - and indeed the country as whole - enjoy more freedoms and more easing of restrictions later in the summer.
Let me now turn to the situation in Glasgow.
Over the past 10 days, there have been extensive public health measures have been deployed in the city.
These include enhanced testing and vaccination in the areas with the highest rates of covid – especially in the G41 and G42 postcode areas – areas I know very well myself because they make up the bulk of my own Glasgow Southside constituency.
Enhanced contact tracing has also been put in place. This has also been used in Lanarkshire and Fife right now, and will be adopted as necessary in other areas when we are dealing with rising cases or new variants of concern.
The enhanced tracing means that teams may well ask close contacts of close contacts to self-isolate and book a test.
And that’s a really important way of trying to break possible chains of transmission as quickly as possible. So if you are a contact of a contact, and you are asked to self-isolate and get tested, it’s really important that you follow that advice.
And it’s really important you follow that advice even if you have been vaccinated.
Despite all of the efforts that have been made in the last 10 days, though, cases are still rising in Glasgow and we are fairly certain that the increase is being driven by the April 0.2 variant.
Last week, just to give you some context we were seeing 71 new cases in Glasgow, for every hundred thousand of the population. That has now risen as of this moment in time to 112.
That increase will partly be due to the fact that there is more testing is being done.
But the percentage of positive tests has also increased in the last week - from 3.1% to 4%. So in summary we don’t think we’ve turned the corner in Glasgow yet.
Let me stress though, that we are confident the major public health interventions underway will be effective – and that they will bring rates of the virus back under control. But our judgment is that we need a bit longer to do that.
We also need a bit more time to be more confident than we are just now that vaccination will stop the rising case numbers today becoming sharply rising hospital and severe illness numbers a couple of weeks from now.
So for all these reasons I can confirm today - regrettably - that Glasgow will remain in level 3 for a further week at this stage.
I know - not least because I live in Glasgow myself - how unwelcome this is for individuals and businesses.
But I genuinely hope it will not be for too much longer. And of course all of us who do live in Glasgow can play our part in getting this under control as soon as possible.
Every single one of us who gets tested, every one of us who gets vaccinated when invited to do so, and every one of us who sticks to the public health guidance – is helping get things back on the right track. So please, continue to do that, it is really important.
The final area I want to talk about today is East Renfrewshire. I’m going to go into a bit more detail about the differences between East Renfrewshire and Glasgow, notwithstanding the apparent similarities.
Because on the face of it, levels in East Renfrewshire as a proportion of the population are actually very slightly higher than in Glasgow. In the last week, we have seen 118 new cases for every hundred thousand people.
I am acutely aware therefore that people will look at the raw data and say if Glasgow is in level 3, East Renfrewshire should be there too.
But - as you have heard me say many times before over the past year – and I know this is really difficult but it’s important, the situation underneath the raw data is often more complex and it is the detailed analysis that we must try to base decisions on.
For example, while the case rates per 100,000 in Glasgow and East Renfrewshire look similar, the total number of cases in East Renfrewshire – because it is much smaller area obviously– is significantly smaller than in Glasgow.
To illustrate that, yesterday there were actually just 17 new cases reported in East Renfrewshire, compared to 166 in Glasgow.
And more importantly, many more of the cases that have been reported in the last week in East Renfrewshire can be traced to specific household clusters than is the case in Glasgow where transmission appears to be much more widespread.
So that means that we think strong and targeted public health measures have more of a chance, at this stage, of stemming the rise, without the need to use wider restrictions.
So, taking all of that into account, our judgement, and these decisions are often finely balanced, but our judgement at the moment is that East Renfrewshire should stay at level 2 for now, although this will be kept under close review.
And we will continue to use enhanced public health measures to try to keep Covid rates under control.
But I want to stress again as I have done to the people in Glasgow and Moray, to the people who live in East Renfrewshire, that it’s really important that you cooperate with these enhanced measures.
Get tested – even if you don’t have symptoms.
Get the vaccine when it is offered to you.
And be very careful when you are meeting other people – especially indoors.
And – although we are not putting travel restrictions in place for East Renfrewshire right now – please think about whether you need to travel over the coming week. If you were planning to meet up with friends in another part of the country, perhaps think about delaying that for a week or two.
By doing that, all of you can play your part in reducing case rates – and hopefully in ensuring that East Renfrewshire can stay in level 2, and then move on to level 1 with, hopefully, the rest of the country in the coming weeks.
So I’ve taken a bit of time to go through the decisions in each of these three areas because they are complex decisions, we are taking consistent decisions even if sometimes it perhaps might not look like that because we are looking at the very detailed picture in each area and trying to be as proportionate as we possibly can be.
Now I have got one other new measure that I want to set out today, which relates to travel within the UK.
At the moment, anyone in a level 1 or 2 area - and of course that is most of Scotland - can travel to any other level 1 or 2 area within Scotland, and to any part of the UK.
However, we know however that there are particularly serious outbreaks of the April-02 variant in three specific English local authority areas – Bedford, Bolton, and Blackburn and Darwen.
So for that reason, from Monday onwards, we are imposing, hopefully temporary, travel restrictions on travel between Scotland and those three local authority areas in England.
So if you were planning to visit friends or relatives, or to stay in those areas – Bedford, Bolton, and Blackburn and Darwen – you must delay your visit.
We are not placing legal restrictions on travel to Lancashire or Greater Manchester more widely – or to areas around Bedfordshire - but if you are planning to visit these areas in the next few days, please consider whether you need to make your visit, or whether it can be delayed.
And finally, remember that the situation with this new variant changes quickly. So if you are travelling to somewhere else in the UK, look and see what the situation at your point of destination is. At the moment, we would advise against travel to any part of the UK where there is an active health protection response associated with the April-02 variant.
Now we hope that these rules and guidelines will not be in place for very long – but at the moment, they are a further way of helping us reduce the risk that any more of the April-02 variant comes into Scotland from while we are trying to deal with outbreaks of it that we have right now.
Now I have two brief final points I want to make before I finally finish and go on to questions today.
The first is about tomorrow’s cup final.
Tomorrow will, of course, be a big day for St Johnstone and Hibs fans – and I know that fans and indeed others will be wanting to watch the game. However please do not gather in big groups in people’s houses, or in hospitality venues to watch the game. that is still against public health rules and is not safe in the current situation we face.
And for the supporters of the winning team, in particular, and may the best team win. But for the winning team in particular remember that no-one – including fans – should congregate anywhere in large numbers at the moment. So please enjoy the game, and celebrate if your team wins – but for your own sake and for the safety of others, please do so safely and that is something that I urge on every football fan watching the game tomorrow.
Now the final point I want to make before ending, is about the overall course of this pandemic.
Ever since the first news of the successful Pfizer and AstraZeneca trials came through last autumn, we have believed that vaccination would provide us with a route out of this pandemic.
And I want to stress today that is still the case, I still firmly believe that. In fact, the performance of vaccines so far, in real world conditions, not just in clinical trials has been remarkable and actually better than we could have dared hope back at the end of last year.
But we also knew and we still know that the route out of the pandemic is never going to be completely straightforward and unfortunately will never be completely linear in every respect. We’ve always known that there would be bumps in the road and what we are experiencing now is one of those bumps in the road.
The presence of the April–02 variant in some communities is undoubtedly a setback. We know, or at least we are fairly certain, that it is more transmissible than the Kent variant we had previously been dealing with.
But the upside, and I want to stress this as well, at the moment, we don’t see signs that it causes more severe illness than other variants. And we believe that the still vaccines work against it.
It’s not possible to be definite on these issues yet – it’s still very early days in our investigations into this new variant.
But I continue to hope - and expect - that over the summer, we will be able to progress through our levels of protection and back to a much greater degree of normality.
Over the next three weeks, we intend publish more detailed work on our expectations for life beyond level 0 – as we return hopefully to something that we all recognise as much closer to normal than even level 0 restrictions.
The April-02 variant undoubtedly gives us more good reasons to be careful. But we also, and I don’t want to lose this point, still have strong grounds for being hopeful.
All of us have a part to play, though, in turning that hope into reality.
So I want to end today with a clear call to action for all of us.
Firstly, remember as all of what I said today should remind us. The virus is still circulating, so continue to be very careful - whatever level your area is in. Please follow the guidance and in particular make sure that you are keeping a safe distance from people outside your own family groups, make sure you are wearing face coverings, and wash your hands and surfaces to try to apply all of these basic measures to stop the virus spreading.
Second, come forward for vaccination when you are asked to do so. We are working to accelerate the programme - especially around second doses - as fast as supplies allow us. But we can only vaccinate you if you come forward when you get the invitation, so please do so.
Uptake rates have been remarkable so far but we have got to make sure that the maximum numbers come forward to get vaccinated. That ultimately is our best way forward.
And, thirdly, please get tested. Everyone now can order what are called lateral flow tests - go the Scottish Government website to find out how. I’ll post a link on Twitter later.
This is particularly important if you are in an outbreak area – and of course in the Southside of Glasgow just now, for example, there are locations where you can collect these tests- but it applies to all of us. If we all test ourselves regularly it means that we can identify cases where people have the virus but are not displaying symptoms and that means we can break these chains of transmission.
I’ll know I’m going to be taking a test regularly and I am asking everyone else to do so.
Remember if your lateral flow test is positive, you should then book a PCR test to confirm your positive result and follow all the advice on self-isolation. If we all do this individually then collectively we are giving this virus much less opportunity to spread.
So these are my three asks of everyone today.
Get vaccinated as soon as you are invited.
And get tested.
Together we have come a long way. And while these bumps in the road are really difficult for all of us, together we are going to beat this thing.
So please stick with it and thank you very much for bearing with us today.