Coronavirus (COVID-19) update: First Minister's statement - 18 February 2021

Statement given by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at a media briefing in St Andrew's House, Edinburgh, on Thursday 18 February 2021.

As usual I will give a run through of today’s statistics.

Beginning with the total number of positive cases reported yesterday that was 685.

Which is 3.8% of the total number of tests, and means that the overall number of confirmed cases is 194,954.

As you have heard me do many times before I will caution against reading too much into a single day’s figure but obviously that’s a lower test positivity than we’ve had for some time and gives us further reason to be hopeful that that is going very firmly in the right direction.

Of the new cases today 158 were in Greater Glasgow and Clyde, 120 in Lothian, and 100 in Lanarkshire.

And the rest of the cases are across 9 other health board areas.

1,261 people are currently in hospital – which is 56 fewer than yesterday.

And we now see the number in hospital quite a bit below the peak of last spring although our hospitals continue to be under very severe pressure.

95 people are in intensive care, that is 4 fewer than yesterday.

And I’m sorry to say that 57 additional deaths were registered in the past 24 hours of patients who first tested positive over the previous 28 days. And that means the total number of deaths, under the daily measurement we use, is now 6,885.

Every single one of these deaths is a tragedy, and that has always been the case but as the rest of us start to gain heart from the more encouraging data we should never forget that as we come out of this pandemic hopefully in the not too distant future there will be families who will never be the same again because of having lost a loved one to it, so yet again my thoughts and condolences are with everybody in that position.

Now there are three things that I want to quickly update on today.

The first is to flag up as I usually do on a Thursday the publication later on of the latest estimate of the R number. We expect it to show again that the R number remains below 1 which is positive.

And indeed that is consistent with the other figures we are reporting now, which suggest that cases are continuing to decline.

Secondly, let me give an update on the vaccination programme.

As of 8.30 this morning, I can report that 1,354,966,  1,354,966 people in Scotland have now received the first dose of the vaccine.

That is an increase of 34,892 since yesterday.

And in addition to that I will also report today that 3,760 people yesterday got second doses of the vaccine.

So we have now offered first doses to everybody over 70, all care home residents, all frontline health and care workers and all people with a serious clinical vulnerability.

Take up rates in all of these categories have been extraordinarily high. But if you haven’t been vaccinated yet and you’re in one of these categories it is not too late you can still come forward and as I have said before if you haven’t had any contact perhaps your letter has gone astray or there is some other administrative problem please make sure you are getting in touch in the first instance with your GP.

I can also say today that 69% of 65 to 69 year olds have received the first dose, and that means we are firmly on course to have offered a first dose to everyone in that age group, by early March.

Once again let me thank everyone involved in delivering the programme and everyone who has so far received their first dose and indeed those who are now starting to receive their second doses.

There are a couple of other points about the vaccination programme that I just want to take a moment to highlight.

The first is that we have been having over the last couple of weeks discussions with the UK Government and the other devolved governments, and with the vaccine suppliers, about how we can publish more detailed information about the vaccine supplies that we have.

As a result, the Scottish Government is publishing information today about the supplies we have received so far. And from next week onwards, we will publish this data initially on a weekly basis and it will be published every Tuesday.

Comparable data about their supplies might also be published by other UK governments but that of course is a decision for them.

There is one point I think is important just to highlight for anyone and I am sure there will be many who pay very close attention to those weekly vaccine supply updates.

The supply data that we will publish every Tuesday will relate to the stocks we have received by the previous Sunday evening so we’ll report on Tuesday for the Sunday just past.

However, the daily data on vaccinations that we publish next Tuesday will cover all vaccinations up until 8.30 on the Tuesday morning.

So it won’t be possible to work out the vaccine doses that have been administered – that have gone into people’s arms - as an exact proportion of the vaccine doses that have been supplied because there is always going to be that one day difference in the data.

Notwithstanding that though, we hope that regular publication of this data will be helpful to the media and to the public because it will give a fuller picture of the supplies that we are receiving each week, and will then allow for a better understanding and indeed closer scrutiny of the progress of the vaccination programme.

Now the second issue relating to vaccination that I want to touch on, is just to highlight again some of the evidence we now have and it is very strong and compelling evidence now, that vaccination is starting to work to reduce the number of people dying.

I touched on this yesterday when I updated Parliament, but let me just cover it in a little bit more detail.

Yesterday’s NRS figures, show a 62% reduction in the number of Covid deaths which have taken place in care homes over the past three weeks.

And that is a larger decline than was seen for deaths happening in hospitals, or in people’s own homes. And as a result of that the proportion of Covid deaths, the proportion of the overall number of people dying taking place in care homes, has fallen from 34% around the start of this year, to 13% last week.

And with the exception of one week at the end of August - when there were only two Covid deaths registered overall - care homes accounted for a smaller proportion of Covid deaths last week, than at any time since March of last year – in other words at any time since virtually the beginning of the pandemic.

So that does give us quite strong confidence now that the early vaccination of care home residents and the focus on trying to maximize uptake within older people’s care homes is now having the impact that we desperately hoped to see it have.

Now I know, and I am always very aware of this, that it sounds jarring to talk about positive news, in the context of daily and weekly death tallies which remain heartbreakingly high.

But this initial indication that vaccination is starting to protect people, is undoubtedly really positive news. And we hope that the signs of that protective effect will strengthen in the weeks ahead, we’re already seeing some early similar signs in the older age group living in the community, the over 85 age group saw the biggest reduction in deaths in the figures that we published yesterday but we hope to see that strengthen in the weeks ahead and we obviously very much hope to see that deaths will start to fall significantly amongst the other groups that are being vaccinated as well.

Now the final point I want to touch on relates to a further expansion of our testing programme.

I have mentioned before that we are expanding testing  particularly now we have access now to what are called lateral flow testing devices so we are expanding to people working in key public services and in critical infrastructure.

Since December many health workers who deal directly with patients – even if they weren’t previously classed as frontline staff – have been offered twice-weekly self-testing.

And from this week that is being expanded to include NHS 24 and to Scottish Ambulance Service call handlers. And testing is also being offered to all people who work in hospices. 

Over the coming weeks we will further expand testing to people in the primary care sector and independent contractors, who come into contact with patients. In many cases they are not directly employed by health boards but they obviously perform an immensely valuable role. 

So what that means for example is that regular testing will be available to staff in pharmacy, dentistry, optometry and general practice - including support staff such as receptionists and cleaners.

And the aim is that by the end of March, all healthcare workers who come into contact with patients – whether that’s in hospitals, or in primary care settings or the wider community – will be able to self-test twice a week.

These tests will use lateral flow devices, which most of you will know by now, give very rapid results that’s why they are useful, but they are less sensitive than PCR tests. For that reason, anyone who tests positive through a lateral flow device, is always advised to book a PCR test so that the result can be confirmed.

Tests generally and it’s important to make this point, are not a magic solution. They’re really important and a key part of our fight against this virus but they are most effective when they work alongside other protective measures.

But they do undoubtedly provide an additional layer of protection and  increase our ability to identify people who have Covid but who might not have symptoms so that we’re breaking more chains of transmission.

Those are the points I wanted to cover today.

I will end, as usual, by asking everyone for now to stay at home except for essential purposes. Please do not meet with people from other households indoors.

And when you are outdoors please meet with no more than one other person from one other household.

Please continue to work from home if possible and employers, please remember you have a legal duty to support people to work from home.

And when you are out for essential purposes, please remember FACTS.

  • face coverings
  • avoid crowded places;
  • clean hands and surfaces;
  • use two metre distancing and self-isolate and get tested if you have any of the covid symptoms.

Above all else, though, please for now stay at home as much as is possible.

I know how difficult that is. We’re all finding that increasingly difficult but it is working.

Case numbers are coming down. The numbers of people in hospital and needing intensive care are coming down and we are now seeing fewer vulnerable people dying from this horrible illness.  

And it’s because of that progress that in just a few days’ time, we will start to see pre-school children and pupils in primaries 1-3 return to school.

And if we all continue to stick with it for a bit longer while we vaccinate more and more people, we will enable more children to get back to school and we will then make it safer to ease other restrictions as well albeit that we need to do that carefully and gradually.

So please for now, stay at home to protect the NHS and save lives.

And thank you to everybody who is doing that.

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