Good afternoon and thank you for joining us today. I will start with the usual update on today’s statistics. The total number of positive cases reported yesterday was 682. That represents 3.4% of the total number of tests and takes the total number of confirmed cases in Scotland to 208,429. Two hundred and seventy six of those new cases were in Greater Glasgow and Clyde, 116 in Lanarkshire and 102 in Lothian. The remaining cases were spread across the 8 other mainland health board areas.
Five hundred and 12 people are currently in hospital – that is 13 fewer than yesterday. Thirty eight people are in intensive care - a reduction of two from yesterday. But I’m very sorry to report that 17 additional deaths have been registered in the last 24 hours of a patient who first tested positive over the previous 28 days. That takes the number of deaths registered, under this daily measurement, to 7,500. However, we know from the latest National Records of Scotland data that the total number of deaths is now well over 9,000.
Around two weeks ago we saw the anniversary of the first case of COVID-19 in Scotland. Today we recognise a harder anniversary – the first confirmed loss of life in Scotland to this virus. In every corner of our nation this pandemic has brought grief and heartache over the last year.
We have been discussing with different organisations and communities how we can commemorate those who have lost their lives. As part of that, we intend to hold a national minute’s silence on the 23rd March – the anniversary of lockdown. And we will set out further remembrance plans shortly. For now, I want to take this opportunity once again to send my deepest condolences to all who have lost a loved one to this dreadful illness.
As you can see, today I am joined by the National Clinical Director Professor Jason Leitch who will help me answer questions shortly. Before that, though, there are two main issues I want to focus on.
The first is about the progress of our vaccination programme. As of 8.30 this morning, 1,844,636 people have received the first dose of the vaccine. That is an increase of 18,836 since yesterday. In addition, 149,409 people have received their second dose of the vaccine, which is an increase on yesterday of 7,976. 97% of 65 year olds have now received a first dose of the vaccine. So have 46% of 60 to 64-year-olds, 38% of 55 to 59-year-olds, and 31% of 50 to 54-year-olds.
As you know, our daily vaccination rates have been affected by a dip in supply over the last couple of weeks. However, we now expect that over the next two weeks vaccination levels will significantly increase. This is, as always, subject to supply, but our expectation is that next week we will deliver in the region of 400,000 doses – that’s first and second doses combined. And we fully expect to be able to offer first doses to the remaining priority groups by mid-April.
Based on the most recent advice from the JCVI we have agreed that these priority groups will include rough sleepers, people in emergency accommodation and people in supported accommodation. They will be vaccinated alongside priority group 6 in the programme.
There are three other points I want to highlight in relation to vaccinations. The first is about improvements in the way in which we report vaccine uptake. At the moment, Public Health Scotland publishes a daily breakdown of first and second doses by age group. And the Scottish Government publishes first dose figures for the other JCVI priority groups such as health and social care workers and care home residents.
From today, Public Health Scotland will start to publish full first and second doses for all of the JCVI groups. And they will provide a more detailed breakdown of the numbers of people in each group who have been vaccinated. For example, they are introducing a new measure to report on vaccinations for health and social care workers. This measure is more precise, since it is based on specific job categories. It therefore allows Public Health Scotland to calculate more reliably the proportion of frontline health and care workers who have received the vaccine.
Public Health Scotland will also now publish a monthly update on the population of care homes for older people. This is important because new residents are constantly coming into our care homes. So these updates will allow Public Health Scotland to publish more precise information of the proportion of current residents who have had their first and second dose. And of course all of that information is publicly available and it allows you to see for yourselves how much progress we are making.
The second point I want to highlight is important and it is for unpaid carers. For the purposes of vaccinations, many unpaid carers have already been identified through GP records or the social security system. And by now, most of those carers will have received their appointment letters, but not everyone who is eligible will have been identified in this way. So from 8am on Monday, that’s Monday 15, we are launching a new service which will allow unpaid carers to register themselves for vaccinations. You are eligible if you are aged between 16 and 64 and provide regular face-to-face care for a family member or friend who may have a disability, physical or mental ill-health, a developmental condition, frailty or substance misuse.
The service can be accessed at nhsinform.scot/carersregister. If you can’t get online, you can also phone the Vaccination helpline on 0800 030 8013. That’s 0800 030 8013. When you register you will be asked for some personal details such as your name, your address and date of birth. This allows us to cross check whether you’re eligible and whether you’re already on our system. It’s possible that your letter is already on its way to you. You will also be asked for your contact preference. And you will then be contacted with details of your appointment which is likely to be scheduled for the following week.
So if you are an unpaid carer and you haven’t yet received an appointment, please register with the new service. The care that you provide – as well as being hugely appreciated – is also very important. And so it’s vital that you get the vaccination and the protection it provides as soon as possible.
Finally on vaccinations, I want to draw your attention a major study which has been published today by Public Health Scotland and the University of Glasgow. It focusses on the impact of vaccination on NHS-employed healthcare workers and members of their households. That’s more than 300,000 people in total.
The study finds that vaccinated healthcare workers have a reduced risk of infection and hospitalisation compared to workers who have not had the vaccine. And it shows that the risk of infection among their household members is also reduced. In fact, it is around 30% lower than in households where the healthcare worker had not been vaccinated. It is obviously very encouraging data indeed. We’re already seen the impact the vaccination programme is having on deaths in care homes and, increasingly, in the community. Today’s study adds to the growing evidence that vaccination can also help reduce the transmission of the virus.
The success of the vaccination programme is of course a key factor in allowing us to ease restrictions. And that brings me to the other key issue I want to cover today. As you know, we announced on Tuesday a number of changes to the restrictions on outdoor meetings and activities. They come into effect from today.
As a result, in areas across Scotland, a maximum of four adults from two households can now meet outdoors. This can be for social and recreational purposes, as well as essential exercise. You can meet in any outdoor space, including private gardens. However two metre distancing should continue to be observed at all times. And you should only go indoors if it is essential, for example in order to reach the back garden or to use their toilet. In addition, you still do need to comply with travel restrictions. And so, for now, you should continue to stay as close to home as possible.
For 12-17 year olds, outdoor meetings are also limited to a maximum of four people, but the two household rules don’t apply. So four 12-17 year olds from four different families will now be able to get together outdoors. We hope this makes it a bit easier for young people to meet up with their friends.
The rules on organised outdoor activity also changes from today. For adults and young people aged 12 to 17 outdoor non-contact sports and organised group exercises are now permitted in groups of up to 15 people. And Professor Leitch will say a bit more of that shortly.
All of these changes are focused on enhancing people’s wellbeing. And together, they represent gradual, but important, steps towards greater normality. As you know, Monday will also see the return of more pupils to schools. And in the First Minister’s statement this coming Tuesday, she will say more about how we will seek to ease other restrictions in the coming weeks.
But the key point is that all of this is only possible if we continue to suppress the virus. So for the moment, please continue to follow the rules. Notwithstanding today’s changes, the most important rule of all is to stay at home right now. Outdoors, only a maximum of four, from a maximum of two households. And if on any occasion when you do leave the house, please remember FACTS.
wear face coverings when you are outside and doing essential shopping;
avoid anywhere that is busy;
clean hands and hard 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.
By following all of these rules, we can help to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe. And we can help to keep the virus under control while vaccination continues. So please - stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives. And thank you, once again, to everyone who is doing that.
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