I will be providing the update to Parliament today on the latest COVID-19 situation.
In giving the update, I will provide: An assessment of the current course of the pandemic, an update on the pressures on the NHS, looking ahead to the Winter, a report on the progress we are making in delivering the vaccination programme, an update on changes to the rules around international travel, and of course I will be giving an update on management of the risks of transmission at or around COP26.
First, though, I will report on the most recent statistics.
2,010 positive cases were reported yesterday – and 13.5% of all tests conducted were positive.
932 people are currently in hospital with COVID – 1 more than yesterday.
63 people are receiving intensive care, that’s 5 fewer than yesterday.
And, sadly, a further 26 deaths have been reported over the past 24 hours. That takes the total number of deaths registered under this definition, to 9,189.
I want to send my condolences to everyone who has lost a loved one.
More positively, the vaccination programme continues to make good progress. I can confirm that 4,320,370 people have received a first dose, 3,910,253 people have had both doses, and 36,759 have received a third primary vaccination.
In total, 88% of the over-18 population is now fully vaccinated with two doses. This includes 96% of the over 40s, 77% of those 30 to 39 years olds, and 68% of those aged 18 to 29 .
In addition, 76% of 16 and 17 year olds, and 55% of 12 to 15 year olds, have had a first dose. For most people in these age groups only a single dose is recommended at this stage.
Presiding Officer, cases remain much lower than the previous peak around the start of September. But the decline in new cases has halted in recent weeks – and, at around 2,500 new cases per day, it is still at a level well above previous lows. There are early signs that case numbers may increase again hereafter. The situation remains precarious.
As you would expect, presiding officer, the Scottish Government continues to explore all options for how it will respond to the evolving pandemic and we will not hesitate to strengthen the protective measures in place if it proves necessary to do so. The uncertainty and risk we face as Winter progresses means now is certainly not the time to relax our approach. We all need to redouble our efforts to adhere to the protective measures in place and follow the guidance.
Over the last week, Cabinet Secretaries have been engaging closely with business and sectoral organisations across the country as part of our continuing conversations to encourage compliance with the existing measures and guidance.
Our appeal to everyone is: please wear face coverings when required; ventilate indoor spaces wherever possible; wash your hands and surfaces regularly; use Lateral Flow Device tests regularly; and book a PCR test if one of these shows up positive, or if you have symptoms of Covid, or if you are identified as a close contact of someone positive.
Please also continue to give your contact details when visiting pubs and restaurants. And show your Covid certificate if you are visiting a venue where this is required. The Covid certification scheme was introduced on 1 October and has been enforceable by law since 18 October. I am grateful for the businesses who have worked so hard to comply with the scheme.
And, critically, please do continue to work from home whenever possible – this continues to be an exceptionally important way of reducing transmission.
I know they are not easy but it is vital that these efforts continue in order to control the transmission of the virus.
The entire health and care system is currently under considerable pressure. Across the country, hospitals are at, or close to, capacity. The social care system is also under pressure and reporting an increase in the number of people requiring care packages. And, the continued high number of cases means that the NHS remains under more pressure than at any time during its 73 year history.
As of today, COVID-related hospital occupancy – the number of patients in hospital with Covid at any given time – is 932, compared to 917 a week ago.
Hospital admissions also remain high. There were 632 people with COVID being admitted to hospital in the latest week. And admissions to ICU have also increased over the past month.
This means that NHS staff are dealing with significant numbers of COVID patients, alongside other patient care, while also preparing for and responding to wider winter pressures, and dealing with the backlog of care that has been built up in earlier stages of the pandemic.
Essentially, our health and social care services have been dealing with demand usually only experienced in winter for many months already.
Facing these challenges, health and care staff on the front line continue to give their all to keep us safe. I want to take this opportunity to reiterate my appreciation and gratitude for their enduring efforts.
Pressures are however likely to intensify during the winter.
Bonfire Night is this week and we expect that protests and demonstrations are taking place and will continue to take place during COP26. Scotland, rightly, has a strong tradition of peaceful protest and demonstration. I do want, however, to take this opportunity to encourage everyone to think very carefully about their behaviours and their impact on services – as well as the risk of spreading the virus to others.
Of course, people should seek urgent medical help when needed, however, if a health related matter is not critical or life-threatening then please call NHS 24 on 111, or contact your GP, Pharmacy or local Out of Hours service.
Moreover, we know that, with people meeting indoors more often as it gets colder, there are more opportunities for Covid to circulate. And we are also approaching the winter flu season, which could put further pressure on the NHS.
We are therefore working closely with health boards as they deal with these pressures. I have today announced an additional package of Winter support, backed by a further £10 million, to bring in a range of measures to get A&E patients to the right care as quickly as possible.
This includes deploying physiotherapists and occupational therapists at A&E units to help triage and treat patients who would otherwise wait to see nursing staff. This will prevent people being admitted to hospital unnecessarily.
The new funding will provide more specialists such as social care workers and Allied Health Professionals on hospital rotas, and extended opening hours for pharmacy and diagnostic services such as scanning and ultrasound to speed up referrals. It will also help support extra staff for peak public holidays.
This is over and above the £300 million package of measures, which is largely focussed on social care and supporting the reduction of delayed discharges to create more capacity in our acute and community hospitals.
We are working closely with Boards and health and social care partnerships to support and implement improvements. A Discharge without Delay improvement programme is now rolling out across Scotland, which aims to improve flow through hospital, and reduce the level of delayed discharges. Work has recently started with five Health Board ‘pathfinder’ sites, including NHS Lothian, prior to a national roll out.
All Health Board areas continue to work closely with their Health and Social Care Partnerships to develop alternative care pathways that support hospital discharges, including the use of interim care options.
Presiding Officer, vaccination remains one of our most effective public health interventions against this pandemic.
The first phase of the programme delivered more than 8 million Covid-19 vaccinations in 10 months. With Covid boosters, flu vaccines, and jabs for new groups added, we will now need to deliver roughly the same number of vaccines again – 7.5 million over autumn and winter period alone.
This has been a mammoth undertaking, which started ahead of JCVI providing advice on boosters. Our approach has sought to reduce the need for people to attend multiple appointments by maximising the availability of scheduled appointments and ensuring the efficient vaccination of people against both COVID-19 and seasonal flu. This is a huge job for our NHS. We have asked the people of Scotland to help us where possible by coming to appointments, and of course rescheduling where necessary.
It is important to bear in mind that, by the time JCVI offered advice on the booster programme, there was already a large number of people eligible for their vaccines. Nonetheless, we started delivering boosters a week after receiving that advice and have been continually ramping up activity since then, to ensure we deliver a consistently high number of vaccinations. I am delighted that, since 6 September, we have delivered over 2 million vaccines, which has included almost three quarters of a million covid-19 boosters. To illustrate the sheer volume being delivered, members will note that in the week ending October 24th almost 488,000 vaccinations were administered – that is more than we have achieved in any week since the programme began back in December last year.
We are therefore confident that we continue to be on track and will offer vaccines to what was JCVI groups 1 to 5 – covering those aged over 70 years, clinically extremely vulnerable and frontline health and social care workers – by the end of this month, and the remaining groups, which includes everyone over 50, by early next year.
Every part of the UK is working at pace through the priority groups. Letters are now being sent to those aged 60 to 69 and people with underlying health conditions, inviting them to appointments at their local community clinics – which have been running from late October and throughout November. Our approach will continue to prioritise those that are most vulnerable by protecting these appointments for these key groups.
We also intend to move towards a system that enables online self-booking. The portal for adults aged 50 to 59 and those aged over 16 who are unpaid carers and household contacts of the immunosuppressed will open from mid-November, allowing those groups to book booster appointments online. We know that the Autumn and Winter programme is both the biggest and most complex it has ever been. That is why a guide has been included in NHS Inform to help individuals understand whether they are be eligible for flu or a booster jab, or indeed both, and how and when they will be invited.
We continue to ensure our delivery model is person-centred and meets the needs of local communities, tailoring our approach by learning from what works. And, as the First Minister outlined last week, we are also urgently exploring how we can quickly increase capacity, for example by establishing additional clinics, particularly at evenings and weekends.
And, given the record volumes of vaccines already being delivered, I know we need to augment our dedicated workforce and that is why we are supporting NHS Boards to identify, recruit and train additional staff, including healthcare students and those in primary care such as GPs, GP practice staff, dentists and pharmacists.
Can I also take this opportunity to thank our Armed Forces for agreeing to support our vaccine effort by complementing our current workforce.
By being vaccinated and boosted, we can protect each other and help our NHS through what will be another exceptionally busy winter period, indeed I would say the most busy in the existence of the NHS – and that will allow us to ensure there is a sustainable service in place for the future.
I will update now on recent changes to arrangements for international travel.
The final seven countries have been removed from the international travel red list, meaning travellers to the UK from those destinations will no longer have to stay in hotel quarantine for 10 days on arrival. The decision was made on a four-nation basis and took effect at 04:00 on 1 November. It affects arrivals from Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Haiti, Panama, Peru and Venezuela.
The red list policy nonetheless remains in place. But at this particular time – with the Delta variant dominant across the world – we do not consider that any countries meet the very high risk threshold to be on that list. The situation will be closely monitored and regularly reviewed – and, if the situation demands it, we will not hesitate to re-impose restrictions on international travel to safeguard the health of our citizens and protect Scotland’s recovery. Some managed quarantine capacity will stay in place in Scotland in order to react to any change in risk assessment that would see a country added quite suddenly to the red list.
This is a further sign of the success of the Scottish Government’s vaccination programme and will enable the travel and tourism sector to take another step back towards normal operations.
In addition, vaccine certificates from a further 35 countries and territories will now be recognised to allow quarantine-free travel to Scotland. Going forward this list will be reviewed on a regular basis.
The UK government unilaterally announced on the 15th October that fully vaccinated travellers returning from non-red list countries will be able to take an LFD test with photo verification instead of a PCR test for their day-two test from the 24th October. For practical reasons, as the First Minister has previously outlined, we have aligned with these changes and that came into force from 4am on 31st October. Wales also confirmed they would align from 31 October and Northern Ireland are still to confirm. Travellers have been able to book these tests from the list of private providers on the gov.uk site from around 5pm on Friday in advance of their arrival into Scotland.
These tests cost between £20-£30 per test compared to £55-£65 for a PCR test, making it cheaper for those returning from international travel. If an individual receives a positive result, they are of course required to follow this up with a confirmatory PCR test that can be booked on gov.uk or by calling 119.
As we will all be very aware, presiding officer, the twenty-sixth Conference of the Parties is underway In Glasgow. We are working tirelessly to ensure it is delivered safely and successfully.
The next fortnight is a critical moment for Scotland and for the world as we look to see hard commitments on reducing emissions, on climate finance, and on promoting international and intergenerational fairness that supports those most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.
The Scottish Government has been working very closely with the UK Government, and partners in Scotland including Glasgow City Council, Transport Scotland, NHS Scotland and Police Scotland, and the UN of course, to ensure the successful delivery of the COP26 summit.
COVID-19 continues to present significant challenges to staging this unique event. The scale and worldwide draw of COP26 poses risk of spread of COVID-19 both within delegates and to or from the local population of Scotland and the UK. A comprehensive and exceptional package of mitigation measures has been put in place to ensure the event can be delivered safely, helping to protect the welfare of everyone involved and the wider community. In addition to vaccination, measures include: a robust testing regime; contact tracing; hygiene measures; and ventilation.
Health Boards have planned and prepared for this event and various arrangements – including additional staff – are in place to support delegates and other visitors, whilst maintaining and protecting key health services.
The UK Government, as the event organisers, have put measures in place to manage access to the Blue Zone. Once inside the site itself, managing queues is the UN’s responsibility. We are liaising with the UK Government and Glasgow City Council to encourage the UN to put in place additional measures to avoid queues such as were seen in the media reports yesterday and to a lesser extent today.
Of course, while public health measures can mitigate the spread of COVID-19 to an extent, there remains a risk that COP26 could increase the spread of the virus. That is why COVID-19 continues to be closely monitored by all relevant agencies and why the Scottish Government will be closely involved in operational decisions during the event.
Vaccination is allowing us to live with far fewer restrictions and mitigations than at earlier stages in the pandemic.
And case numbers are much lower than in August and early September.
But they are still high – and, as we head into winter, there are some factors which could drive them up further.
Hundreds of people each week are still being admitted to hospital with Covid. And our NHS is under intense pressure.
So we must remember – however much we all wish otherwise – that the virus has not gone away. Covid remains a threat.
And we all need to play our part in helping to keep the virus under control.
For that reason, I will close, again, with a reminder of the three things we can all do to help protect each other.
Firstly, please do get vaccinated if you are eligible and haven’t yet done so. That includes going for a booster jab when you are invited for that.
It is never too late to get vaccinated. And it remains the single most important thing any of us can do.
Secondly, please test regularly with a lateral flow device. These can be ordered through the NHS Inform website, or collected from a local test site or pharmacy.
If you test positive, or are identified as a close contact, or have symptoms of the virus, please self-isolate and book a PCR test.
And, thirdly, please comply with the mitigations still in place.
Wear face coverings in indoor public places, such as shops, public transport and when moving about in hospitality settings.
Wash hands and surfaces thoroughly.
Meet outdoors if you can – I know that will be increasingly difficult as we get deeper into winter. But outdoor environments are safer.
When meeting indoors, open windows – do anything you can to improve ventilation.
And try where possible to keep a safe distance from people in other households.
These precautions do make a difference. They will protect you and the people around you, and help to ease the burden on our NHS.
Thank you, once again, to everyone doing just that.
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