Thanks for joining us again.
I am not able to give these Covid briefings just now as often as I have been doing because we are now in a pre-election period.
However I think that it’s important to give an update today, in advance of the changes that are due to take place over the weekend.
As things stand just now, I intend to give further updates at this time next Tuesday and on 20 April.
I am joined today by the Chief Medical Officer, Gregor Smith, and the National Clinical Director, Jason Leitch, who will help me answer questions.
However, I will start as usual with the latest statistics.
The total number of positive cases reported yesterday was 411.
That represents 2.8% of the total number of tests, and takes the total number of confirmed cases in Scotland to 217,890.
109 of those new cases were in Lothian, 94 in Greater Glasgow and Clyde and 76 in Lanarkshire.
The remaining cases were spread across 7 other health board areas.
250 people are currently in hospital – that is 9 fewer than yesterday.
23 people are in intensive care, which is an increase of 1 since yesterday.
And 12 deaths were reported yesterday, of patients who first tested positive over the previous 28 days. That takes the total number of deaths registered, under that definition, to 7,596.
That reminds us of the heartbreak that this virus continues to cause. Once again, I want to send my condolences to all those who have lost a loved one.
I can also provide an update on our latest vaccination figures.
As of 7.30 this morning, 2,436,398 people in Scotland have received their first dose of the vaccine.
That is an increase of 26,572 since yesterday.
In addition, 12,180 people received their second dose yesterday, which brings the total number of second doses to 338,443
Virtually all over 65 year olds have now received a first dose of the vaccine.
- 98% of 60-64 year olds;
- 81% of 55 to 59 year olds;
- and 57% of 50 to 54 year olds.
We remain on course to offer a first dose of the vaccine by the middle of April to all over 50 year olds; all unpaid carers; and all adults with particular underlying health conditions.
Those figures confirm the progress we have made in the last three months.
We are now averaging 539 new cases per day.
That is a decline of more than 3/4 since early January.
The number of deaths from Covid has fallen even more sharply. They are down by more than 80% in the last 2 months.
And, as you can see from the figures I have reported, the number of people in hospital and intensive care is also reducing.
However there are still no grounds for complacency. Indeed, we must continue to be hyper vigilant.
For example the data suggests that the numbers of new cases in Scotland – having fallen throughout January and February – are now plateauing, rather than continuing to decline significantly.
Numbers fell very slightly last week – but they have risen in some other weeks recently.
As a result, hundreds of people in Scotland every day, are still getting the virus which remains very infectious and highly dangerous.
So we still face significant risks - and it is vital that we all continue to bear that in mind and act cautiously and carefully.
However, there is no doubt that we have made progress - both in suppressing the virus and in vaccination - and that is directly relevant to the decisions I am confirming today.
I am able to confirm today, that taking all of the recent data into account, the changes which I previously indicated that we hoped to make on 2 and 5 April can go ahead.
The first change will take effect from Friday, 2 April.
From that day, our current stay at home rule will be lifted. That rule currently applies across all of Scotland, except for some of island communities.
However the stay at home rule is being replaced by a requirement to stay local.
This means that the current travel restrictions – which prevent non-essential travel outside your local authority area – will remain in place for another 3 weeks.
I understand how frustrating those restrictions are.
I share that frustration - my family live in a different local authority to me.
And like anyone with loved ones in a different part of the country, I desperately want to see them in person.
But the requirement to stay local is there, for the moment, for a good reason.
At the moment, different parts of the country, have different levels of infection.
For example some parts of the central belt have far more new cases each day, than areas such as Highland, the Borders, and Dumfries and Galloway. And there are also different rates of infection within the central belt itself.
So while Covid levels remain high in some areas – and while a lot of people remain unvaccinated – we do not want the virus to spread from areas with relatively high prevalence, to areas with low rates of infection.
That’s why sticking to the stay local rule for another 3 weeks is really important.
All of the other immediate changes will take effect from next Monday, 5 April.
From that date, more students – particularly in colleges - will be allowed to return to on-campus learning. That includes many students who are taking qualifications in construction, in engineering, and in subjects such as hairdressing and beauty.
In addition, from Monday onwards, contact sports will resume for 12 to 17-year-olds.
And there will be a limited reopening of some retail services.
All shops will be allowed to operate click and collect services from Monday – although you will need an appointment to pick up your goods.
Car showrooms and forecourts will also reopen. Again, you may need an appointment to get into showrooms, so please check that with the retailer before you go.
Homeware stores and garden centres will also be able to reopen – that’s something which I know will be appreciated by those retailers, and also by many customers, as we head towards the summer.
Obviously, we don’t want big crowds at any of these stores – so although they open on the 5th, think about whether you really need to visit them on Monday itself. If you can, wait until later in the week.
Going later in the week – or later in the month – might mean things are a bit quieter.
And of course, follow the advice and the instructions given by store staff. Those staff will be helping to keep you and the other customers safe.
Finally, from next Monday, hairdressers and barbers will also be allowed to reopen. I know that many people are already looking forward to their first professional haircuts of the year. But again, please make an appointment before you go.
These changes will I hope be widely welcomed.
But they are – quite deliberately – fairly cautious steps out of lockdown.
If you look across to Europe at the moment, many countries there are seeing a big rise in cases.
We don’t want the same thing to happen here if we can avoid it.
And in our view the virus is still too widespread, and too dangerous, to allow for a more rapid opening up.
However if the data permits, we do expect to be able to make further changes later in April.
First of all, once the Easter holidays finish, all secondary school children will return to school full time.
After that, we hope to ease restrictions further on 26 April. By that time, we expect to have offered a first dose of the vaccine to all JCVI priority groups – that includes everyone over the age of 50.
That is a significant milestone – since those priority groups are estimated to account for 99% of all deaths from Covid.
We hope that mainland Scotland will move from level 4 to level 3 on 26 April.
That means – for example - that we expect to end all restrictions on travelling within mainland Scotland on that day. We also expect to confirm a full reopening of retail premises, and a partial reopening of the hospitality sector.
We also hope that on the 26th, it will be possible to ease some of the rules on outdoor meetings.
I hope to be able to confirm those changes at a media briefing in three weeks’ time.
In addition, the Scottish Government will publish updated levels tables on our website, in the next few days. They will provide some more information about the changes we hope to make during April and May, and into the summer.
We will also update our guidance on the current restrictions on Friday and Monday, to take account of the changes I have just confirmed.
For now, however, the main point that I want to stress is that it will be more possible to relax more restrictions in the future, if case numbers remain under control.
So when things open up slightly this weekend – please continue to stick to the rules.
Until Friday, stay at home - and from Friday onwards, stay local.
Remember that you must stay in your local authority, unless your travel is for an essential purpose.
Continue to work from home if you can. That remains the default position. And employers still have a duty – if they reasonably can - to support people to work from home.
Don’t meet up with other households in their homes. That is really important. We know that the virus spreads much more easily in indoor environments.
When you are outside - the maximum group size for adults is up to four people, from up to two households.
For 12 to 17-year-olds, the maximum group size is still four– but they can be from up to four households.
On any occasion when you do leave the house, remember FACTS.
- wear face coverings;
- avoid anywhere busy;
- clean hands and surfaces;
- use two metre distancing
- and self-isolate and book a test if you have symptoms.
And Download the Protect Scotland app, if you haven’t already – and make sure that it is enabled when you are out and about.
These basic precautions are always important – but they perhaps become even more vital, as we start to do slightly more.
By following them – and by sticking to the rules - we can all keep the virus under control, while vaccination continues.
And we can all make it safer, for more restrictions to be eased in the future.
So please, stay at home – for now. Protect the NHS. And save lives.
Thank you, once again, to everyone who is doing that.
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