Thanks for joining us again today.
Let me give you as usual, today’s statistics.
The number of positive cases reported yesterday was 1,330.
That represents 6.2% of the total number of tests, and takes the total number of confirmed cases in Scotland to 175,332.
394 of today’s new cases were in Greater Glasgow and Clyde, 245 in Lanarkshire, and 135 in Lothian.
The remaining cases are spread across 9 other health board areas.
I can also tell you that by 8.30 this morning, 462,092 people had received their first dose of the Covid vaccine. That includes 56% of over 80-year-olds living in the community. You’ll recall that already, 95% of people in care homes have also been vaccinated.
In addition, 2016 people are currently in hospital – that is 6 more than yesterday.
145 people are in intensive care, which is 4 fewer than yesterday.
I’m also very sorry to report that a further 92 deaths have been registered in the last 24 hours, of a patient who first tested positive over the previous 28 days.
That means that the total number of deaths, under this daily measurement, is now 5,888.
National Records of Scotland has also just published its weekly update - which includes cases where Covid is a suspected or a contributory cause of death, even if it has not been confirmed through a test.
Today’s update shows that by Sunday, the total number of registered deaths linked to Covid - under that wider definition - was 7,902.
448 of those deaths were registered last week, which is 75 more than in the previous week.
294 of last week’s deaths were in hospital; 111 were in care homes; 8 were in a different institutional setting; and 35 were at home or in another non-institutional setting.
Now, that number I’ve just reported to you – 7902 – is a difficult one for any of us to grasp and to properly comprehend. So was the news we heard yesterday, that the death toll across the UK as a whole, during this pandemic, has now passed 100,000.
Those numbers should make anyone in a position of authority – I know they certainly make me think very hard about what more we could have done, and what lessons we must continue to learn.
I know that I, and everyone in my government, have tried every day to do everything we possibly can but I don’t think any of us reflecting on numbers like these can conclude that we have always succeeded. And for any mistakes we have made, firstly I take responsibility for that and I am and I always will be truly sorry for any mistakes we have made or for any reflections that we could have done things differently.
Now, I say every day that none of the people who have died are statistics, they are human beings who are loved and who right now are being mourned by friends and families. We should never ever forget that but somehow it feels more important than ever today to remember that. Now, when the immediate crisis of the pandemic is over, I know that we will want to formally commemorate and remember those who have died. But I want, today, to take just a moment to pause and remember. So please, join me for just a few seconds of reflection in memory of all those who have died in this pandemic so far and in sympathy with all those left behind.
To those of you who are grieving, I know that this won’t be any consolation to you at all but nevertheless I want you to know that your loss weighs heavily on me and it always will.
Now there are two other points that I want to update you on today.
The first is that Public Health Scotland has today published a report on shielding during the first wave of the pandemic.
It gives detailed statistical information on issues such as whether the advice to shield was followed, and what evidence there is that shielding was effective.
It also provides details about the value – and in some areas the shortcomings- of the support offered to shielders during the first wave.
It is important to remember that by the middle of February, people who were on the shielding list and who are over 16 will have received a first dose of the vaccine.
That will not guarantee anyone’s safety for reasons we’ve set out before – but it will start to provide valuable protection after about two weeks of receiving the vaccine. So that will be taken into account in our future advice for shielders.
In addition, the Scottish Government no longer issues guidance to people on the shielding list which is quite as restrictive as it was in the first wave of the pandemic.
This is in line with the recommendation in the report, that we should not return to full shielding. Instead, we must help people who are shielding to make an informed choice about their actions.
But today’s report is a reminder – if any were needed – of the scale of the sacrifice that we asked from people who were shielding, during those early months of the pandemic.
Staying at home completely, without going outside at all even for exercise, was incredibly tough I know for people who were asked to do that.
And so I want to thank everyone who is on the shielding list, for everything you have done over the past few months, not just to keep yourselves safe but also to help us collectively in this fight against Covid.
And I want to reassure you that you will continue to be central to our thinking and our decision making as we move through this next stage of the pandemic that we are living through.
Now, the second point I want to cover today relates to travel, since there is a lot of speculation about a UK Government that will be made later on this today.
So I want to reiterate some of the points the Deputy First Minister made to parliament yesterday that some of you may have heard.
Travel restrictions will be very vitally important in the coming months. Travel restrictions will be a key way in which we help to stop new cases and in particular, new variants of this virus being imported into Scotland.
As we found out to our cost over the summer, the virus travels when people travel – and there will be a need for restrictions even after vaccination is much more widespread.
And indeed at a time when there is rightly a focus on lessons learned, that we should be learning from earlier stages of the pandemic, this is one that I would highlight that we should have perhaps done more of at an earlier stage to restrict travel across our borders.
We have been in discussions with the UK Government for some time about improving border controls. In those discussions, we have raise the issue of Quarantine Hotels, where people who are returning to the UK can self-isolate.
The Scottish Government believes that a comprehensive system of supervised quarantine is required for this next stage of the pandemic, to mitigate against the risk of new cases and new variants being imported into the country.
I’ve just taken part in a 4 Nations call and I’ve been briefed on what the Prime Minister is likely to announce later on. I’m not going to preempt his announcement. It wouldn’t be appropriate for me to do so but clearly there is speculation in newspapers. But I think I do have a duty at this point to say that I am concerned that the proposal does not go far enough and I’ve made that point very strongly in the 4 Nations discussions that we’ve just had today.
So while the Scottish Government will initially emulate the UK Government’s steps on enhancing quarantine arrangements, we will be seeking urgently to persuade them to go much further and indeed to move to a comprehensive system of supervised quarantine.
Given the obvious practical issues involved, we are very clear that our preference is to have consistent quarantine rules across the UK. But if there is no agreement to go further on a 4 Nations basis, we will be considering going further ourselves and we will set out any such additional measures next week.
I know that talk of travel restrictions is tough to hear, for everybody, but particularly tough for many businesses and so we’re also asking the UK Government to work with us to provide additional support for the aviation sector, which is of course directly affected by further restrictions.
Fundamentally, though, we believe that tougher travel restrictions - however unwelcome they are for all of us – are essential to managing the risk posed by new variants, and to new cases coming into Scotland.
And, as I said, I think that they will become increasingly important, as case levels in Scotland, we hope, continue to fall and that makes it all the more important that we do everything that we can to protect against the risks of reimportation.
As I said, we are likely to set out further steps next week but for now, let me reiterate that no one should be travelling overseas right now unless for absolutely essential purposes.
And I’m afraid that means you should not at this stage be booking holidays overseas. I know that is hard to hear but again if I can be really frank with people, our best route back to greater domestic normality right now, as we continue with the vaccination programme is firstly to suppress the virus here to as low a level as possible again, as we did over the summer. Then give ourselves the chance of better controlling it through Test and Protect. And next, doing much more than we did last year to protect our borders and stop the virus being imported. That is not easy for anybody to live with but that is the recipe to get ourselves back within our own borders, to being able to have more of a normal life. Perhaps see more of our loved ones and of course get children back to school on a sustainable basis.
For the moment though and this is my concluding point. The single most important thing that all of us need to do to curtail the spread of this virus is to stay at home. That remains for now the very clear and overriding message.
Please stay at home unless you have to be out for very essential purposes like caring, essential shopping and essential exercise.
If you meet up with someone outdoors, you can only meet with one other person from one other household.
Please work from home if you possibly can. All of us have a duty to do that as far as we can, unless we have to be at work because it can’t be done at home and that applies even to those of us in government.
I have to be in St Andrew’s House to lead the response to this pandemic and to speak directly to you. But even me, when I do get the opportunity, I should work from home because everybody has to lead by example.
And on any occasion when you do leave the house, please remember FACTS.
- wear face coverings when you are doing essential shopping for example;
- avoid anywhere busy;
- clean hands and surfaces regularly;
- use two metre distancing if you are talking to someone from another household
- and self-isolate and book a test if you have symptoms.
We are as I said earlier in the week seeing cautious signs for optimism right now. In our case figures we are starting to see even more cautious signs, given the lag effect but nevertheless some cautious signs for hope in our hospital and intensive care admissions. We are not yet seeing that given the infectious path and the lag associated with this virus in the numbers of people dying. As we seen today, the figure remains horribly high but hopefully if we can keep suppressing case numbers we will also see that start to reduce in the weeks to come.
But this takes a massive, ongoing collective effort, involving each and every one of us, so thank you again, particularly this week when the UK has passed this horrible milestone.
Thank you for everything that you have done and you continue to do.
Please stay at home. Help us protect the NHS and most importantly of all, help us to save lives.
Thank you very much for listening today.
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