Good afternoon and thank you once again for joining us.
I will start with the usual update on today’s statistics.
The total number of positive cases reported yesterday was 543.
That represents 2.6% of the total number of tests, and takes the total number of confirmed cases in Scotland to 203,555.
150 of those cases are in Greater Glasgow and Clyde, 77 in Lothian, and 102 in Lanarkshire.
The remaining cases were spread across 8 other health board areas.
750 people are currently in hospital – that is 34 less than yesterday.
69 people are in intensive care, which is a reduction of 2 from yesterday.
And 35 additional deaths have been registered in the last 24 hours, of patients who first tested positive over the previous 28 days.
As you will know we report the number of deaths associated with COVID-19 in two different ways. Each week the National Registrars of Scotland reports on deaths where COVID-19 has been listed on the death certificate. And each day Public Health Scotland reports on the number of people whose death was registered in the previous 24 hours and who had first tested positive within the last 28 days.
Through quality assurance work, Public Health Scotland has identified 172 cases where a person was recorded in the weekly NRS figures but should also have been recorded in the daily figures. Public Health Scotland produces the daily figures by reconciling the reports it receives each day from National Records of Scotland with the information on its own database.
For these 172 deaths Public Health Scotland had not been able to identify an individual’s unique NHS Community Health Index or CHI number.
Public Health Scotland have now put systems in place and now expect to be able to reconcile all cases each day - even when it doesn’t have the relevant CHI number. This should mean that further revisions will not be required in the future.
The 172 additional deaths Public Health Scotland are reporting today, together with the 35 which were recorded yesterday, means that the total number of deaths registered, under the daily measurement, is now 7,371.
National Records of Scotland has also just published its weekly update - which includes cases where Covid is a suspected or contributory cause of death.
Today’s update shows that by last Sunday, the total number of registered deaths linked to Covid - under that wider definition - was 9,580.
227 of those deaths were registered last week. That is 64 fewer than in the previous week – a fall of more than 1/5 - and represents a reduction of almost 50% since the third week of January.
Of the deaths registered last week, 187 were in hospital; 26 were in care homes; and 14 were at home or in a non-institutional setting.
So deaths in care homes continue to decline significantly, and last week made up just over 11% of all Covid deaths.
This does provide further evidence that vaccination may be reducing the number of people dying from Covid.
But even so the virus is still bringing grief and heartbreak to households on a daily basis. Once again, I want to send my condolences to all those who have lost a loved one.
I am joined today by Dr Gregor Smith, our Chief Medical Officer, who will help me to answer questions.
But before then, I have three points that I want to highlight.
First, I can provide more details on our vaccination programme.
As of 8.30 this morning, 1,661,879 people in Scotland have received their first dose of the vaccine.
That is an increase of 27,518 since yesterday.
In addition, 8,105 people received second doses yesterday, meaning that a total of 35,623 vaccinations were administered. Just under half of all care home residents have now received their second dose.
In addition, 95% of 65 to 69 year olds have now received a first dose.
36% of 60-64 year olds; 30% of 55 to 59 year olds; and 25% of 50 to 54 year olds have all received their first dose.
So, if supplies continue to allow, we still expect to be able to offer a first dose of the vaccine, by the middle of April, to those aged 50 and over; all unpaid carers; and all adults with particular underlying health conditions.
The second point I want to highlight, is to underline some of the key elements of the plan that the First Minister set out in Parliament yesterday, enabling children to return to school.
All children in primary 4 to 7 will go back to school full-time from Monday the 15th of March unless new evidence or new circumstances force us to reconsider.
We will also take steps in a phased return to secondary school from the 15th of March with a clear expectation that all secondary school pupils will be back in school on a full-time basis after the Easter holidays.
However it is the intention that all secondary school pupils will return to spend some time in school between the 15th of March until the Easter break.
Students in the senior phase of secondary school, that is years 4 to 6, who are taking a national qualification will have priority for face-to-face lessons in school.
Education Scotland is producing guidance this week to help local authorities deliver education during that phased return before Easter. But local authorities will have considerable flexibility.
That allows each local authority to ensure that the phased return is as safe as possible – something that of course remains a key priority.
The precautions we are adopting include 2 m distancing within secondary schools – at least until the Easter holidays – and face coverings in secondary school for all staff and young people, unless exemptions apply.
In addition all school staff in primary, secondary and special schools - and all secondary school students in years 4 to 6 - will be able to take Covid tests twice a week.
We are publishing data today showing results from the first two weeks in which lateral flow tests were available for school staff, and for a small number of secondary school students who were in school.
During that time, more than 36,000 staff and 3,000 pupils took tests.
Very few of these tests were positive. The additional cases which were confirmed – which were all among school staff – show once again how testing can help people to find out if they have Covid, even when they do not have symptoms.
It therefore provides an additional safeguard as students and teachers return.
Fundamentally, I know that the phased return will cause some difficulties for schools, for local authorities, and for pupils and their parents.
But it is the best way of ensuring that all secondary school students spend some time in school before Easter – something we all know is important – whilst making their return as safe as possible.
The other point I want to make is about education relates to college and university students in Scotland. As you know a small number of further and higher education students are now returning to campus for in-person learning.
Anyone who lives in Scotland and has to do that, and who is changing household as a result, can now request a test before they travel to their term-time address. This will be a very small proportion of the total number of students - but it does offer extra reassurance for them and their fellow students that that they will arrive on campus with a negative result.
The tests for these students are PCR tests – which take longer to process than lateral flow tests, but which are more sensitive.
So, I would strongly encourage anyone who is returning to campus and is changing household as a result, to request a test. You can find out more details about how to do this, through the Student Information Scotland website and NHS inform.
Ultimately of course, the best way in which we can ensure a safe return for our university and college students, and for our school pupils, is to keep levels of Covid within the community as low as possible.
One of the ways that we are increasingly trying to do that is by increasing our use of targeted community testing – particularly in communities where there is still a high prevalence of the virus. And that is the final point I want to touch on today.
We have agreed proposals for targeted community testing with 20 local authority areas.
So, 23 testing sites have now been established across Scotland, which people can turn up to if they do not have symptoms. Over the next month we will establish a further 24 sites.
We have published data today showing that more than 10,000 tests were carried out on people without symptoms during the five weeks up to 23 February. And just over 250 of those tests were positive.
In those cases, targeted community testing has helped to identify people with Covid who would not otherwise have known they had the virus.
And is a good example of how testing can help us to break chains of transmission within the community. That is something that will become even more important, as we start to relax restrictions
Ultimately, however, the best way in which we can keep the virus under control at the moment, is to stick to the current rules and guidelines.
It’s very clear from the data at the moment, that things are heading in the right direction.
New cases of Covid are falling, vaccination is starting to have an impact. But case numbers are still high and we do still need to be careful.
So for all of us, the most important rule remains a very clear one – please stay at home.
In any level 4 area –that of course includes all of mainland Scotland- we should only leave home for essential purposes.
Those include caring responsibilities, essential shopping, and exercise.
Please do not 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 leave the house, we should continue to remember FACTS.
- wear face coverings when you are likely to come into close contact with other people;
- avoid anywhere that’s 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.
Above all else, though, please stay at home as much as possible.
By doing that, we can enable children to go back to school safely.
And we can continue to protect each other, our loved ones and our communities – as vaccination continues, and as restrictions slowly start to ease.
So please - stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives.
And as always my sincere gratitude to everyone who is doing just that.
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