Coronavirus (COVID-19) update: First Minister's statement - 28 May 2021

Statement given by the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at St Andrew's House, Edinburgh on Friday, 28 May 2021.

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Good afternoon everyone. Thanks for joining us today.

As you can see, I’m joined today by Jason Leitch, who will help me answer questions in a few moments.

Before that, though, I’m going to give you an update on the overall state of the pandemic as we see it from the data.

I will also give an update on the situation in Glasgow and, looking ahead, try to provide an indication of when we hope to move Glasgow out of level 3 and down to level 2.

Firstly though I’ll run just through today’s statistics.

There were 641 positive cases yesterday.

234 of these are in the Greater Glasgow and Clyde health board area which, of course, is bigger than Glasgow City, 132 in Lothian, and 104 in Lanarkshire.

That number is 2.6% of the tests that were carried out yesterday, and takes the total number of confirmed cases now to 234,312.

There are, as of now, 90 people who are receiving hospital treatment – that is 7 more than yesterday.

And 6 people are receiving intensive care, which is 2 more than yesterday.

Sadly, 2 deaths were reported in the past 24 hours and that takes the total number of deaths registered, under the daily definition, to 7,668.

And, as always, I want to convey my heartfelt condolences to everybody who has lost someone as a result of the pandemic.

Let me also briefly update on the vaccination programme. I will slow down slightly here for the benefit of the signers as there are some big numbers involved in this update.

As of this morning, 3,196,051 people have received a first dose of the vaccine.

That is an increase since yesterday of 21,244.

In addition, 28,721 people got a second dose of the vaccine yesterday. And that brings the total number of second doses now to 1,971,006.

So we continue, as you can see, to make very good progress in the vaccination programme.

I will turn now to an overview of the current national situation, and then explain the decision we have reached in relation to Glasgow for this week - but also, as I said, try to give the city an indication of what we hope is the direction of travel.

Now, in the interests of giving as frank and balanced an assessment as possible, which I, with varying degrees of success, always try to do, aspects of what I am about to report today give cause for concern, there’s no getting away from that. But other aspects also give us real cause for optimism.

And that reflects, I think, the phase that we are now in this pandemic which - I very much hope - is a transition phase. A transition to dealing with the  virus in a way that allows much greater normality.

As I indicated earlier in the week, we do think that vaccination is changing the impact that the virus has and that it will therefore allow us to change the way we respond to the virus. And that is really positive and that is what gives us grounds for real hope. But, and this is the frustrating bit, our understanding of this is still developing. The good news is we’re literally learning more about this new variant and about the impact of vaccination on a daily basis but our understanding is not complete. And that means that, for now, we still need to exercise a reasonable degree of caution.

Firstly, the national picture. Case numbers across Scotland are rising just now. They increased by more than ¼ in the last week, and they’re more than double what they were in the early part of May.

And actually today’s numbers highlight that point quite strongly. 641 new cases is the largest daily number we have seen since 25 March. Some of that, of course, will be accounted for through increased testing.

But the latest estimate of our R number is that it could now be as high as 1.3 – now, again, I need to put that into context because that will be probably quite significantly driven by the situation in Glasgow, given how big the city of Glasgow is as a proportion of Scotland’s overall population.

A key factor behind the increases - which are also being seen in some other parts of the UK – this is not entirely unique to Scotland is that the new April-02 variant, which we think is more transmissible than most other types of the virus, probably now account for 50% or even more of our daily cases.

However, the increase in cases so far does seem to be concentrated in younger age groups – and this may indicate that vaccination is having a protective effect for older people which, of course, is what we want to see.

On previous occasions, a rise in cases, as you know, has led a few weeks later to a significant rise in hospitalisations and deaths.

And the number of people in hospital with Covid has increased in Scotland – from 68 people 3 weeks ago, to 90 today. But, again, that needs to be put in context.

As I mentioned on Tuesday, back in January, at the peak of the second wave, there were more than 2,000 people in hospital.

So, we are monitoring very carefully just now whether - and to what extent – the vaccines are breaking or, at the very least, weakening the link between rising case numbers and significantly rising cases of serious illness and death.

And if we see a significant reduction in the health harms of Covid, even as case numbers rise, then hopefully that will allow us to change our approach because we’ll be able to rely on other public health measures – rather than blanket restrictions – to keep outbreaks under control.

Mainland Scotland - although I am going to talk about Glasgow separately - is currently due to move from level 2 to level 1 on the 7th of June – many islands, of course, are already in level 1. I am planning to confirm on Tuesday to Parliament whether, and to what extent, that move will proceed – and the issue I’ve just talked about is one of the issues that will influence that decision.

And it is also something that we are taking into account when considering the situation in Glasgow and that’s what I want to talk about now.

The difficult part of this update is that in Glasgow, cases have also continued to rise - in the last week by about 30%, from 112 per hundred thousand of the population, to 146.

Test positivity has hovered around the 4% mark, but we’ve seen a slight increase in it in recent days as well – it’s now around 4.4%.

However, as I will return to shortly, the National Incident Management Team’s view is that the escalation of public health measures in Glasgow is stabilising and indeed might be starting to improve the situation.

I’ll just give you a sense of the scale of the response that has been implemented in Glasgow.  

Across Greater Glasgow and Clyde since the start of May, the level of PCR testing for example has more than tripled – up 240%.

The speed of that can be seen in the fact that in one week alone testing more than doubled – it was up more than 150% - compared to the week before.

That is just PCR testing. In addition, more than 135,000 lateral flow tests have been distributed across the city.

Enhanced contact tracing is in place.

And, we’ve also seen a remarkable effort to speed up vaccination.

For example, as of Wednesday, more than 6,000 people had made use of the open vaccine clinic at the Glasgow Central Mosque.

There is now a “vaccine bus” – which is effectively a mobile vaccine clinic - providing hundreds of vaccinations every day.

And, additional drop-in slots are planned for the Hydro this weekend and there will be drop in vaccination clinics across the city next week.

Details of these will be advertised shortly.

But, in particular, if you’re over 40, and if you haven’t had a first dose yet, or if your second dose is due, please look out for details of these drop-in clinics.

As I said this time last week, measures like these are always going to take time to work.

But there are some early signs that the situation is stabilising in Glasgow.

For example, I can tell you that in the postcodes which were initially at the heart of the outbreak, in the Southside, new cases have fallen in recent days, and fewer of those new cases appear to be symptomatic.

That is a hopeful sign that these efforts are paying off.

We also – we think - in recent days – are seeing a stabilisation in numbers across the city as a whole. They have increased but not as fast as might have been expected.

Also, the number of Covid patients in hospital in Glasgow has remained broadly stable over the past week, and the number of patients in intensive care thankfully remains low.

Weighing up all of these different factors is inevitably really difficult. Case levels in Glasgow – I can’t say anything other than this – they remain uncomfortably high.

But there are signs of progress.

So the view of the National Incident Management Team is two-fold. Firstly, that it would be premature to move Glasgow out of level 3 immediately this week while the situation remains so fragile - however, and secondly, if incidence continues to stabilise, and assuming levels of hospitalisation remain reasonably stable, the Incident Management Team has made clear to me that they will support a move to Level 2 from the end of next week. So, this time next week.

Of course, it is necessary that we do see progress continue.

We will be watching the critical statistics carefully every day.

If the massive public health efforts continue to have an impact; if our collective efforts to drive the virus back continue; then from next Saturday – Friday into Saturday - 5 June – the plan would be for the city to move to Level 2.

But I want to be clear here, again, just in the interests, as I’ve always tried to be, to be frank with everybody. We do need to see the positive signs to continue to make that a reality. To give as much advance notice as possible, because I know the lack of notice is one of the key frustrations for people and for businesses, in particular, I intend to confirm any decision no later than Wednesday of next week.

My message to the people of Glasgow is don’t lose heart. On the contrary, take heart from the progress that we are seeing.

I live in Glasgow, so I know how hard this is from my own personal life. But please, continue to help with all of the public health efforts that are in place. If we continue to do this, we will make that move from level 3 down to level 2 and, after that, hopefully get back on track to get down the levels further.

In particular, please come forward for the vaccine – and this is a key point that you’ll hear me stressing more and more - not just the first, but for your second dose as well.

And that applies to young people too. Again, a point you will hear me stress more and more. This virus can and does make young people ill - being young is not a cast iron guarantee or protection against it. Far from it in fact - a high proportion of the, albeit relatively low, number of hospital cases right now are amongst younger age groups.

So please get vaccinated whatever age you are.

I’m obviously well aware of the economic impact the restrictions are having.

The Deputy First Minister and the Finance Secretary met earlier this week with Glasgow City Council - and affected business sectors - to discuss the difficulties and we will continue to fund grants for eligible hospitality and leisure businesses in Glasgow.

But hopefully if we all continue doing this really tough stuff then we will see Glasgow get back on track hopefully with the rest of the country in the weeks to come.

Now moving away very briefly from Glasgow City.

We’ve also considered in recent days whether we need to step up restrictions in some other areas with relatively high levels of new cases – in particular Renfrewshire, East Renfrewshire and Clackmannanshire.

All of these areas, however, have low absolute numbers of cases – they have relatively low populations – and public health teams there consider that the outbreaks there are being controlled in other ways.

In Renfrewshire, for example, where we’ve seen a rise in cases in recent days, the outbreaks are all tightly clustered. So Renfrewshire – like Clackmannanshire and East Renfrewshire – will stay in level 2 for now. And obviously we will update next week in common with the rest of the country what will happen.

Now, I’ve concentrated so far on specific decisions we’re taking in relation to areas with relatively high rates of Covid.

But I want to end, and thank you for bearing with me, this has been quite lengthy. But I want to end with a message that really applies to all of us, regardless of where in the country we live.

We all have a part to play – either in getting Covid outbreaks under control where there are outbreaks or, in other parts of the county, keeping levels low.

That’s been true for more than a year now – and it remains the case.  

And the single most important thing everybody can do right now is to get vaccinated when you are invited. I’ve said before that take-up rates have been exceptional – and that remains true.

But we are now seeing some quite high numbers of people, not attending appointments.

I know there will often be reasons for that – and some of these are for government to address which we are doing - but please attend your appointment if you possibly can.

If you can’t make it, rearrange your appointment.

But please make sure that you get the vaccine – and as I said earlier on – don’t just go for your first dose, get your second dose as well. It is the second dose that really makes a difference to how much protection you have and that’s why you should continue to be careful until you have received both doses of the vaccine.

If you haven’t received an appointment letter yet, and think that you should have done, please go to onto the NHS Inform website to arrange a new appointment.

And if you are aged between 18 and 29, you can register online for vaccination. You can get information how to do both of those things, on the vaccinations page of the NHS inform website, or at this address:

Getting vaccinated is in all of our own best interests – whatever age we are, it does make it much less likely that, if you get Covid, you will become ill from it.

But it’s also the most important thing we can all do to help our family, our friends, and our neighbours. By getting vaccinated, we’re helping reduce the overall harm and making it easier for us all to get back to normal.

So, rolling up our sleeves – not once, but twice – really is part of our civic, public duty to each other and to the country right now.

There are other ways we can all help too.

Getting tested regularly is one. I’d ask everyone to do this. Free lateral flow tests are available through the NHS inform website.

They give quick results – and if they show that you might have Covid, they allow you to self-isolate, and get a PCR test to check.

That’s really helpful as we try to quickly break chains of transmission.

And finally remember to follow all of the public health advice and continue to take all of the sensible precautions. That’s important for everyone but it’s particularly important, as I said earlier, for anyone who hasn’t yet had both doses of the vaccine.

So, please, get vaccinated when you’re asked, test yourself regularly and continue to follow all of the public health advice.

If we all do that then, despite these bumps in the road, we remain on the right track overall. And, hopefully, over the summer get back to a greater degree of normality.

My thanks for listening and bearing with me on that and for all that you’re doing.

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