Coronavirus (COVID-19) update: First Minister's statement - 22 February 2021

Statement given by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at a media briefing in St Andrew's House, Edinburgh, on Monday 22 February 2021.

Good afternoon. Thanks for joining us again.

Let me give you the update on today’s statistics first of all.

There were positive cases reported yesterday was 715.

Which was 6.6% of the total number of tests, that means the overall number of confirmed cases in Scotland is 198,184.

Of those new cases 246 were in Greater Glasgow and Clyde, 140 in Lothian, and 99 in Lanarkshire.

And the remainder are spread across 9 other health board areas.

1,141 people are currently in hospital – which is a slight increase of 9 from the figure we reported yesterday.

99 people are currently receiving intensive care, which is no change from the position yesterday.

No additional deaths were registered in the last 24 hours, of patients who first tested positive in the past 28 days.

But you know by now, of course, the figures we report on a Monday are often artificially low, because registration offices tend to be closed at the weekends. 

Since the update on Friday, 34 new deaths have been recorded. Which takes the total number of deaths, under this measurement to 6,950.

Again, of course, I want to send my condolences to everybody who is grieving the loss of a loved one.

I am joined today by the Chief Medical Officer who will shortly help me to answer questions.

Before then, I have two topics that I want to briefly update on today.

Firstly just an update on the vaccination programme.

As of 8.30 this morning, I can say that 1,445,488 people in Scotland had received the first dose of the vaccine.

That is an increase of 13,546 since yesterday. In addition to that 1,863 people got their second dose.

As you know we’ve had slightly lower supplies in recent days which is why the daily number has gone down. We expect to see that ramp up again in the weeks to come.

Take up rates in all the initial categories, which are categories one to four of the JCVI list has been extraordinarily high.

For example, we have given a first dose to 96 per cent of 70-74 year olds, and an even higher proportion of 75 to 79 year olds.

And we are well on track to have offered the vaccine to all 65-69 year olds, which is JCVI priority group five by early March.

As of this week we are also now starting to vaccinate people with the first dose in priority group six.

People in priority group six includes people with certain underlying health conditions – these include, but are not limited to, heart disease, diabetes, or a severe or profound learning disability.

I can, though, confirm today that with the agreement of the Chief Medical Officer we also intend to include people with mild or moderate learning disabilities in group six.

Although we will have some work to do to make sure we are identifying and reaching everyone in that category.

Priority group six also includes unpaid carers, who often need to spend time in close proximity to vulnerable people.

It’s important to stress at this point that group six is the largest group we have covered so far. It includes approximately million people in total, which to put that in context is more than 1/5 of the entire adult population of the country.

Because of that, it will take several weeks to provide first doses to everyone in that group. And so if you do not receive a letter giving you an appointment this week or next week. I would ask you not to worry, we will get to you as quickly as possible.

It is likely that the first people to be invited within group six will be those with underlying health conditions identified by the JCVI, who are also on the flu vaccine list. These people will be invited at the same time as unpaid carers who receive carers’ benefits, or who have been identified as carers by their GPs.

But we are also working to identify people who underlying conditions who are not on the modified flu vaccine list, and if you are in that category you will be invited for vaccination shortly.

And carers who do not receive specific benefits for carers, or who have not been identified by GPs, will be asked to come forward to register for their vaccine at a slightly later date. And I expect that to be in early March.

So as I say just because of the size of this group, it will take a little bit of time to work through everyone in group six. And of course, as always, the speed with which we can offer first doses, is dependent on our supplies.

So I would ask everyone who is in that group, I know this is really hard, to show some patience as you have been doing already.

But the good progress we have made with the programme overall so far, I hope that will reassure you, that we will invite you to get your first dose just as quickly as is possible.

There is one other point on vaccine that I just wanted to highlight today because it is very good news.

Edinburgh University this morning published has the results of a study showing that by the fourth week after getting a first dose, the Pfizer and Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines reduced the risk of hospitalisation from Covid by 85 per cent and 94 per cent respectively.

That is exceptionally encouraging news and  on this Monday I hope it gives all of us that little bit of optimism that we need now for the future.

Now the final point I want to highlight is just that there will not be a media briefing at 12:15 tomorrow. Instead, I will be giving a statement to Parliament which will be at around 14:20 tomorrow afternoon.

That statement will set out our current thinking on the overall state of the pandemic, and it will provide details of the revised strategic framework document that we are publishing tomorrow.

Now as I said last week the framework will not set out hard and fast dates for the easing of all restrictions - as I indicated last week, it is really important in this stage in the pandemic, particularly given everything we learned from our emergence from the first lockdown, that we are driven by data more than we are driven by dates.

However, we will seek to set out tomorrow an indicative order of priority and the likely phasing of, firstly the gradual lifting of the current lockdown restrictions and then, in due course, a return to the geographic levels system when we would decide whether all or parts of the country, may by moved out of level four down to level three.

And of course that’s the point in which more parts of the economy would start to open up.

Now this will be a cautious way forward because it’s really important that as we come out of this lockdown we do so sustainably. We’ve got every reason to be very optimistic right now. The lockdown is working and of the indications are that vaccination is having an impact as well.

But we don’t want to set back our progress, we don’t want to – while there can be no guarantees – we don’t want if we can avoid it to face another lockdown.

So sure and steady, even if it’s a bit slow over the next few weeks is definitely how we want to proceed.

As I’ve said before in all of this there has been hard choices to be made, if we can’t do everything all at once.

So what we set out tomorrow will be very clear again about the priority we are placing on the education of young people and getting young people back to school as quickly as possible.

That priority is of course very evident and in action today.

Many children in early education and childcare, and in primary 1 to 3, are going back to nurseries and school buildings today for the first time since before Christmas.

And in addition some, albeit a limited number, senior secondary school students are able to return to school to carry out essential practical work for national qualifications.

So I hope that all of those children and young people getting back to school today enjoy seeing their friends, their teachers and others in person again.

And I want to take this opportunity to thank all childcare and education staff, and their leadership teams - for all the work that has been done to prepare for today, and everything that all of them are continuing to do to support remote learning for other children.

Today is undoubtedly an important milestone and a very welcome mile stone. That first step to restoring greater normality to our lives. And I know that it will be a particular relief to many parents across the country.

But it’s really important that we remember that it has been made possible only by the sacrifices we have all made, to bring numbers down. Our headroom and room for manoeuvre remains limited.

So we hope that more children will be able to go back to in-school education next month. But our ability to achieve that, depends on our ability to continue to suppress the virus.

Over time, vaccination will play a bigger and bigger role, we hope, in allowing us to do that.

And as I said earlier on all of the early indications about the impact of vaccinations so far are very positive and encouraging.

But for the moment, the vital thing we can do to keep the virus under control, is to continue to do all the things that have been driving case numbers down over these past few weeks.

So let me close once again by emphasising the key advice.

The most important thing of all remains a very clear one - stay at home, except for essential purposes. That rule is going to be in place for a little bit longer.

Don’t meet up with other households indoors.

Outdoors, you should meet with no more than one other person from one other household.

Please work from home if you can – and employers remember to support your workforce to do that wherever possible.

And if you are a parent whose child has returned to school or nursery today, I’ll make again a particular plea. Not to have your child return lead to an unnecessary increase in the number of contacts that you are having with other adults.

I know that is difficult but it is really important that this return to school is just that. So that it doesn’t then lead to an increase in transmission and send our progress back the way.

More generally, when you are out and about whoever you are. Please remember to follow FACTS:

  • face coverings;
  • avoid crowded places;
  • clean your hands and hard surfaces;
  • use two metre distancing;
  • and self-isolate and book a test if you have symptoms.

It’s by continuing to do all of this that we will be able to continue down that path that we have started on today in getting some children back to school.

A path that does lead, hopefully, over these next number of weeks to much greater normality.

But it will take discipline, it will take common sense, it will take patience for us to do that.

So I appeal to everybody again to continue to show all of these things just as the majority has been doing so far.

Thank you again for listening. We will go now to questions.

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