Coronavirus (COVID-19) update: Health Secretary's statement - 1 March 2021

Statement given by Health Secretary Jeane Freeman at a media briefing in St Andrew's House, Edinburgh on Monday 1 March 2021.

Good afternoon and thank you for joining us once again.

I will start with the usual update on today’s statistics.

The total number of positive cases reported yesterday was 386.

That represents 4.5% of the total number of tests, and takes the total number of confirmed cases in Scotland to 202,470.

123 of those new cases were in Greater Glasgow and Clyde, 70 in Lothian, and 51 in

The remaining cases were spread across 9 other health board areas.

824 people are currently in hospital – that is 13 less than yesterday.

71 people are in intensive care, which is a decrease of 7 from yesterday.

In addition, no deaths were registered in the last 24 hours, of patients who first tested positive over the previous 28 days.

But as you know, we often report a low number of deaths on Monday, because registration offices tend to be closed at the weekend.

Since I spoke at Friday’s briefing, a total of 20 deaths have been registered. That takes the total number of deaths registered, under the definition used in our daily figures, to 7,131.

Once again we remember that behind every one of those numbers is a loved one whose loss is greatly mourned and I send my condolences, to all those who have lost a loved one.

I am joined today by Gregor Smith, our Chief Medical Officer – who will say a few words after me, and who will also of course help to answer questions.

Before that, there are three issues I want to highlight.

The first is our vaccination programme.

An IT issue prevents me unfortunately prevents me from giving you confirmation of the position as at 8.30am this morning, however those confirmed figures will be published by Public Health Scotland at 2pm today on their COVID dashboard

I can give you the figures from yesterday, which were that a total of 1,593,695 had received their first dose and 76,512 their second dose. These numbers will obviously have increased by today.

We have already given a first dose to virtually all care home residents, all over 70 year olds, and all health and care workers.

As of yesterday, 95% of 65 to 69 year olds have now received a first dose of the vaccine.  So have 32% of 60 to 64 year olds; 27% of 55 to 59 year olds; and 22% of 50 to 54 year olds.

Supplies permitting, we continue to expect to be able to offer a first dose to all over 50 year olds, to all unpaid carers, and to all adults with underlying health conditions by the middle of April.

The second issue I want to update you on relates to the three cases that were identified in Scotland yesterday, of people who have contracted one of the new variants of the virus.

Dr Smith will say more about this shortly but let me briefly say the following.

The variant identified yesterday is sometimes known as the Brazilian variant of concern, or P1 - because it is associated with the resurgence of cases that has been seen in Brazil.

We know that current vaccines are effective against the strains of the virus that have already been established in the UK. However more work is required to determine that this remains the case for emerging strains of the virus, such as the one we’re highlighting today from Brazil. That’s why so much effort is going into stopping it spreading further while the work is underway with respect to the vaccine.

The three individuals concerned had travelled from Brazil to Scotland via Paris and London.

They self-isolated on their arrival in Scotland, and when they tested positive for Covid, they all stayed in isolation for a further 10 days.

Because they had arrived from Brazil, a designated high risk country, their test results were selected for genomic sequencing. That is why we have now been able to confirm that they had the P1 variant.

As a precautionary measure, Test and Protect teams are now identifying all possible contacts of these cases - and the contacts of those contacts - so that they can take tests.

We are also contacting other passengers who were on the flight the individuals took from Heathrow to Aberdeen. That is flight BA1312, which departed from Heathrow on the afternoon of Friday the 29th of January.

If you were on that flight, and have not yet been contacted – you will be contacted shortly so please wait for that.

I want to stress that there is currently no reason to believe that the P1 variant of the virus is in circulation in Scotland.

However I hope this summary reassures you that we are doing everything we can and everything that is necessary - to check whether this variant of the virus could have been transmitted within Scotland, and to identify and break any possible chains of transmission.

These three cases remind us once again how careful we need to be in guarding against new variants.

That is why the Scottish Government has put in place such strong travel restrictions.

And it is why as we all work to reduce case numbers it is important to avoid large groups, not only to reduce transmission, but to reduce the opportunity the virus has to mutate.

The final point I want to reflect on, is that it is exactly one year ago today, since the first case of Covid was identified in Scotland.

During the last 12 months our lives have been turned upside down, in ways which would have been absolutely unimaginable at the beginning of 2020.

For thousands of families who have lost loved ones to this virus - as the figures I read out at the start remind us - the last 12 months have brought grief and heartbreak.

Very many people have been anxious about their own health, or that of their loved ones - or they have faced economic hardship due to redundancy or furlough.

For all of us, the forced separation from friends and loved ones has been and is hard to endure.

And of course for many people in our health and social care workforce, the last year has been the most difficult and stressful of their professional career. The entire country is grateful for everything you have done.

The Scottish Government is currently talking to health charities and family organisations about how we should commemorate the pandemic - marking the loss of life, and the sacrifices people have made, and we will say more about that in the coming days.

For the moment, it is impossible to adequately express how grateful I am for everything that people across Scotland have done and endured during the last 12 months, and for the tireless unrelenting work of our health and social care staff and those who have kept our vital public services running. We owe you an enormous debt of gratitude.

But I do want to stress that your sacrifices have made a difference.

They have undoubtedly saved lives.

At the moment through those sacrifces you are helping to reduce the number of people who are getting Covid and falling seriously ill from it.

And that will help us to come out of lockdown safely, in the weeks and months ahead.

The success of our vaccination programme means that, after 12 long months, an end to the pandemic may now be in sight.

But for the moment – as today’s news reminds us – what we need to do is continue to be very careful. And we do still need to stick to the current rules and guidance.

So let me close once again, by reminding us all of what those are.

The most important rule - for now - remains the same.  Please stay at home.

In any level 4 area – which of course includes all of mainland Scotland- you must only leave the house for essential purposes.

You cannot meet up with other households indoors.

And if you meet up with someone outdoors, you can only meet with one other person from one other household.

You must work from home if you possibly can – and employers have a legal duty to support people to work from home. 

And when we do have to leave the house, we should continue to remember FACTS.

  • wear face coverings when you are likely to come into close contact with any other person;
  • avoid anywhere busy;
  • clean hands and surfaces;
  • use two metre distancing if you are talking to someone from another household
  • and self-isolate and book a test if you have symptoms.

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

That is how we can continue to protect each other, while the vaccination programme does its job.

So please - stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives.

Thank you, once again, to everyone who is doing that.

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