Coronavirus (COVID-19) update: First Minister's statement - 4 February 2021

Statement given by the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at a media briefing in St Andrew's House, Edinburgh on Thursday 4 February 2021.

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Firstly let me run through the latest statistics for you as usual. The number of positive cases reported yesterday was 1,149. That represents 4.9% of the total number of tests and means that the overall number of confirmed cases in Scotland is 183,418.

Now as you have heard me say many, many times before, we should never read too much into a single day’s figures, obviously, but that said, any day with test positivity below 5% particularly given the phase of the pandemic we are in right now is welcome - and today is the first time we’ve had that in more than a month.

So we shouldn’t overstate it – and I am going to stress that point, but nevertheless I think, particularly given how grim things have been recently, we should allow ourselves to reflect just a little bit on the rays of sunshine when they appear. And that is undoubtedly a small ray of sunshine.

Now of today’s new cases, 339 were in Greater Glasgow and Clyde, 190 in Lanarkshire and 159 in Lothian and the remaining cases are across 9 other health board areas.

1,812 people are currently in hospital which is 53 fewer than yesterday and 127 people are in intensive care, which is 4 fewer than yesterday. So again we are starting to see the numbers in hospital and intensive care stabilise and start to decline albeit gradually. And again that is positive news although those working on the frontline of our health service continue to be under very, very severe pressure.

However, I’m sorry to report that 53 additional deaths have been registered in the past 24 hours of patients who tested positive over the previous 28 days and the total number of deaths under that measurement is now 6,322.

As we start to see case numbers and numbers of hospitalised and patients in intensive care decline obviously it takes longer for the numbers of people dying to start to decline as well and we should therefore remember that even though we might be starting to see some positive signs in the statistics there are too many families across the country still losing loved ones and I again today want to send my condolences and my thoughts to everybody who is grieving, particularly those recently bereaved, but to everybody who has lost a loved one in the course of the pandemic.

Now later today we will be publishing as well the latest estimate of the R number. I am pleased to say that will show that the R number remains below 1 – which is further evidence of the progress we are making.

However, for all of that positive progress it is really important for me to stress that if we are to maintain that progress in suppressing the virus it is essential that all of us continue to follow the stay at home except for essential purposes rule.

That is really vital. It is all of us doing that that is leading to this positive progress and the infectiousness of the virus - especially the new strain that we have been dealing with for the past number of weeks - means that progress could very easily be reversed if we start to drop our guard prematurely.

I want now to turn to the latest data on vaccination. As we suppress the virus of course in this other lane of the race we have spoken about is the vaccine programme.

As I have reported already, we have now vaccinated, with the first dose, 98% of older residents in care homes and 89% of staff working in older people’s care homes have also now had the first dose of the vaccine.

And let me be clear - these are not figures for people offered vaccination. These are people actually vaccinated. These are quite extraordinary uptake numbers - and they are hugely important given the toll the virus has taken on older people in care homes.

I can also report that as of this morning, at least 90% of those aged over 80 and living in the community have been vaccinated. The work being done, which I have referred to already this week, to refine the total number of people in that over 80s in the community group of the population actually suggests that that percentage in reality is higher than 90 per cent.

Again the importance of protecting such a high number of older people most vulnerable to this virus can’t be over-stated.

However, and you have heard me say this as well, targeting maximum uptakes in these most vulnerable groups does takes time, and that has meant that overall numbers vaccinated in Scotland have been slightly lower so far. That has been subject to criticism, it is fair enough for people to do that, but it has been about trying to protect the maximum number of lives and I think that is important.

However, I’m pleased to report that, having achieved such high uptake in the two most vulnerable groups, we are also now seeing the pace of the programme overall pick up significantly - as we always said it would.

So as of 8.30 today I can tell you a total of 694,347 people have received the first dose of the vaccine. That is an increase of 45,085 from the number we reported yesterday.

And that daily total of more than 45,000 is the highest daily total we have recorded so far, in fact this is the third day of a record high daily total, and today’s is 52% higher than the same day last week.

So if we look at this week so far we have vaccinated 55% more people than in the same period last week. So that gives you a sense of the acceleration that we are now seeing in the pace of the programme overall.

Now the overall number that I have just reported there now also includes 38% of 75 to 79-year-olds living in the community. They have also now received the first dose and we will see that number rise rapidly over the days to come. And we are on track to meet the target we set of all over 70s and all adults classed as clinically extremely vulnerable by mid-February. Indeed many over 65s are also now receiving the vaccine.

So in short, the vaccination programme in Scotland is going well. It has been focused on protecting those most vulnerable first, and that is important, and then working as quickly as supplies allow through everyone else.

I want again today to take the opportunity to thank everyone who is working really hard across the country to achieve this, but I also want to thank you, the public, those of you, the groups that have already been prioritized for vaccine, for coming forward in such large numbers so far. The uptake rates we are seeing, and I hope this continues as we get into the younger population groups, are way beyond anything I could ever have believed would be possible. Way beyond what we see in the flu vaccine programme so that is testament to the willingness and the enthusiasm I would say of people to come forward and be vaccinated for their own safety, but also to be part of that collective effort that we need to have to beat this virus.

Now as we vaccinate more and more people it remains vital, I said this earlier on, that for the moment we do stick with the lockdown restrictions. They are necessary, and I think as we are seeing now in the data, they are working. I said earlier this week that we will keep these in place until at least the end of this month because they are so necessary, but I know they are really hard for everyone.

So the two other issues I just want to briefly highlight today relate to support for businesses, and some support and advice which is available to help individuals and families.

In relation to businesses, as many of you know, the Scottish Government set up the Strategic Framework Businesses Fund to help many of the hospitality, leisure and retail businesses that have been required to close.

In December – as we brought tighter restrictions into force – we announced top-up funding for those businesses, in addition to the monthly grants that they are receiving.

This top up support is worth £25,000 for larger hospitality businesses, and £9,000 for larger leisure and retail premises.

The reason I am highlighting that support today, is that for businesses on the mainland - there is now slightly longer timescales to apply for the Special Islands funding - but for businesses on the mainland the deadline for applying for these top up grants is tomorrow. Now let me be clear if you are a business that has already applied to the strategic framework fund you don’t need to re-apply. If you are currently receiving monthly payments you will get these top-up grants automatically.

But if you are eligible for support from the Framework Fund, and you have not yet applied then please do so – otherwise you risk missing out. You can find details about eligibility, and how to apply, on the FindBusinessSupport website.

And even if you don’t qualify under the Strategic Framework Fund, the website can help you find details of other programmes that you might be eligible for.

The second and final point I want to highlight relates to mental health.

This week is Children’s Mental Health week. It takes place in early February every year, but this year, of course, it is more significant than ever.

The last 11 months have been really difficult for all of us, but I don’t think there is any doubt that children and young people have borne a really big burden from everything that they have had to do to help us deal with this virus. They have had their schools closed, their education disrupted and of course they’ve been unable to see, play with, interact with friends as normal.

So I want to highlight today some resources that are in place to help children and young people at this time because I know lots of children and young people will be struggling right not, including struggling with mental health.

So for example the organization Place2Be has created a range of free resources. These are designed to help children find creative ways to share their thoughts and feelings – they are able to be adapted for use in school when we start to return young people to school, or for learning from home, or for independent learning for young people.

In addition, the Young Scot campaign “Aye Feel” has useful information.  The ParentClub and Clear Your Head websites also provide good advice including about how to support children’s mental health. And the Clear your Head site can also help find lots of other possible sources of support.

The wellbeing of children is a priority – I know it is a priority for the parents, grandparents aunties and uncles who will be watching this – but it is a priority for the Scottish Government.  It is why we are and we will continue to prioritise a return to school, albeit a phased and careful return to school,  ahead of easing lockdown in other ways. There may be points in the weeks to come where adults are asking me to open pubs and restaurants and open the places that we as adults enjoy going and there may be a period where I am saying we can’t do that yet, and the reason we can’t do it is because we need to keep all of the flexibility that we have to get children back to school and when we get to that stage as I suspect we will at points over the next few weeks please remember that that is the priority of the government. The wellbeing and the education of children and I know it is one that is shared across the country, but it will demand of adults a bit of patience in the weeks to come.

So please for adults remember that this is a tough time for you too. There is help and support out there and the See Me national mental health campaign has today designated this day as the “Time to Talk” day.

One of the things they are pointing out is that often when people are feeling down and struggling with things often a small gesture – phoning up someone or sending them a card – can make a big difference.

So if you’re in a position to do so, then maybe think about whether you can reach out to somebody today or later this week.

And if you’re feeling down yourself remember the nhsinform website – the full address is has lots of information and you can call NHS 24 on 111 as well. So my point today is this is tough we are 11 months into this pandemic, we have still got some tough times ahead of us in, everybody is struggling, it is affecting all of us in different ways, but it is affecting all of us. So if you feel you need some help please reach out and remember be kind to each other. Let’s all try as we have done throughout these last 11 months to continue to support each other as much as we can.

And finally let’s keep focusing on the light at the end of the tunnel.

We’re not quite at the end of the tunnel yet - there are still some tough times ahead - but there is no doubt that the light is more visible now than it has been at any point in recent weeks. You see that in the figures. Case rates are falling, numbers of people in hospital and intensive care are starting to fall, vaccination is accelerating.

We have got more work to do. We need case numbers to get to a lower level, we need to get them as low as we possibly can, but we are making progress so let these trends give us hope for the future and from that hope, let’s all draw the strength we need to keep going right now and stick with it.

Thank you very much indeed for listening.

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