Coronavirus (COVID-19): Deputy First Minister - statement 9 November 2021

Deputy First Minister John Swinney statement on COVID-19 delivered in the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday, 9 November 2021.

Presiding Officer

I will be providing the update to Parliament today on the latest COVID-19 situation, on behalf of the First Minister.

In giving the update, I will provide:

  • An assessment of the current course of the pandemic and our ongoing consideration of how to respond.
  • An update on the pressures on the National Health Service, looking ahead to the Winter.
  • A report on the progress we are making to deliver the vaccination programme.
  • An update on changes to international travel rules.
  • And an update on management of the risks of transmission at or around COP26.

First, though, I will report on the most recent statistics.

2,233 positive cases were reported yesterday – 12% of all tests conducted were positive.

753 people are currently in hospital with COVID – 23 fewer than yesterday.

57 people are receiving intensive care, 4 more than yesterday.

And, sadly, a further 20 deaths have been reported over the past 24 hours. That takes the total number of deaths registered under this definition, to 9,313.

I would like to send my condolences to everyone who has lost a loved one during the pandemic.

More positively, the vaccination programme continues to make good progress. I can confirm that 4,324,440 people have received a first dose; 3,918,528 have had both doses; and 1,017,359 have received a booster vaccination or third primary vaccination.

The vaccination programme is continuing at considerable pace. I am pleased to say that the United Kingdom Government’s Covid data dashboard confirms that our booster programme continues to be the best performing rollout in the UK.

Today is also a major milestone in that programme as we have reached 1 million covid boosters and third doses, totalling 2 million doses of both covid and flu vaccines. This is an amazing achievement and I want to thank everyone involved for their extraordinary efforts. This further demonstrates that the booster programme is performing exceptionally well.

In total, 88% of the over-18 population is now fully vaccinated with two doses. This includes 99% of the over 50s, 88% of those aged 40 to 49, 77% of 30 to 39 year olds, and 68% of 18 to 29 year olds.

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

After the most recent peak in new cases, at around the start of September, the spread of the virus has not reduced to anything like the low levels we had seen following the lockdowns. At slightly over 2,500, the number of new cases each day is holding at a concerningly high level. The situation is precarious and unpredictable – if the previous pattern, characterised by waves of infection, is repeated, there is a risk that the spread of the virus could, very quickly, increase again during the coming weeks, perhaps over the Christmas period.

Starting from the current high level of infection in the community – and the intense pressure the NHS is already under as a result – some scenarios for what may happen next are very concerning. We need to avoid the most dangerous of those scenarios.

And there are some specific reasons to suspect that case numbers may increase in the weeks ahead. With the onset of colder Winter weather, increased time spent indoors means there will likely be more opportunities for COVID to circulate. COP26 has seen people from all over the world meeting in Glasgow – and that presents a known infection risk. And many of us will wish to spend time visiting loved ones over the festive period.

But we are not yet able to predict with confidence what will happen next. We certainly want to avoid the sort of strict lockdowns we had seen before most of us were vaccinated – we do not want to repeat the sort of disruption to our daily lives, businesses and the economy that had been required at earlier stages in the pandemic. But we do need to take appropriate measures to keep the pandemic under control.

It is because we want to avoid more difficult restrictions that we cannot rule out strengthening the baseline protective measures currently in place as the best way to head off any prospect of future lockdowns. Indeed, all governments in the UK have said much the same, not least, for example, the United Kingdom government’s ‘Plan B’.

We have been considering, for example, whether we may need to extend the Covid certification scheme to bring more settings into scope, such as indoor hospitality and leisure settings. Among other possible interventions, we are exploring how we can help improve ventilation; what we could do to increase home-working; and whether changes are needed to extend the use of face masks. I would stress though that we have not yet taken any decisions about strengthening the existing baseline measures – and we will be discussing options with business sectors in the course of this week.

As you would expect, Presiding Officer, the Scottish Government has been exploring all options for how it will respond to the evolving situation. We have been reviewing our Strategic Framework, which defines the Scottish Government’s overall approach to responding to the pandemic. And the next three-weekly review of the existing baselines measures will take place a week today. The First Minister, my Cabinet colleagues, and I are, of course, watching the situation closely and stand ready to respond – at the right time – when the data indicates it is necessary and proportionate.

The challenges we currently face – and the continuing spread of the virus – mean that 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 to follow the guidance.

For that reason, I want to take this opportunity to reiterate the appeal the First Minister, my Cabinet colleagues, and others, have been making to members of the public, to businesses, transport providers and to organisations throughout Scotland:

  • please do get vaccinated, including booster jabs and flu vaccinations for those that are eligible;
  • please wear face coverings when required;
  • ventilate indoor spaces wherever possible;
  • wash hands and surfaces regularly;
  • use Lateral Flow Device tests regularly;
  • and book a PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) test if one of the lateral flow tests shows up positive, or if you have symptoms of Covid, or if you are identified as a close contact of someone who’s positive.
  • Please also continue to give contact details when visiting pubs and restaurants.
  • And Covid certificates should be shown if visiting a venue where this is required.
  • And, critically, please do continue to work from home whenever possible.

The Government knows that it is not easy but it is vital that these efforts continue.

Presiding Officer, the entire health and care system remains under considerable pressure. For many months, our health and social care services have been dealing with levels of demand usually only experienced in Winter. 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.

Indeed, the continued high number of cases of COVID-19 means that the pressure on our NHS is greater than at any time in its 73-year history.

As of today, COVID-related hospital occupancy – the number of patients in hospital with Covid at any given time – is 753, compared to 932 a week ago.

Hospital admissions also remain high, although have decreased slightly. There were 585 people with COVID being admitted to hospital in the latest week, compared to 687 in the first week of October. Admissions to ICU have also decreased slightly over the past month.

NHS staff are dealing with significant numbers of COVID patients, alongside other patient care. They are also preparing for and responding to wider Winter pressures, and dealing with the backlog of care built up in earlier stages of the pandemic.

As I have set out, there is a real risk that the pressure on the NHS could intensify further during the weeks and months ahead, including as we enter the Winter flu season.

The Scottish Government is working closely with health boards as they deal with these pressures. The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care set out last week the measures we are taking to support the NHS in preparing for and responding to the pressures now and the challenges ahead.

As we know, vaccination has proven to be one of our most effective public health interventions against this pandemic.

The first phase of the programme delivered more than 8 million Covid vaccinations in 10 months. With Covid boosters, flu vaccines, and jabs for new groups, we now need to deliver roughly the same number of vaccines again – 7.5 million – by early next year.

The vaccination programme is continuing at considerable pace. We have now administered, in total, more than 1 million boosters and third doses. We are nonetheless continuing to explore how we might increase capacity further, for example by establishing additional clinics, particularly at evenings and weekends.

We are confident that the programme remains on track. We are now sending letters to those aged 60-69 and those with underlying health conditions, inviting them to appointments at local community clinics, which will run throughout November.

We will then, from mid-November, launch the online self-booking portal for: adults aged 50 and over; those aged over 16 who are unpaid carers; and household contacts of immunosuppressed individuals – with the aim of offering vaccines to everyone over 50 by early next year.

This has been a huge job for our NHS.

I would like once again to offer our thanks to the NHS staff working tirelessly to keep us safe. Can I also take this opportunity to reiterate our thanks to the Armed Forces for agreeing to support our vaccination effort by complementing our existing workforce.

We have asked the people of Scotland to help us deliver the vaccination programme by coming to appointments where possible, and rescheduling when necessary. By being vaccinated and having a booster vaccination, we can protect each other and help our NHS through what will be another exceptionally busy winter period.

Turning now, Presiding Officer, to the question of international travel, colleagues will be aware that the UK Government yesterday announced a change to international travel rules for England, recognising a wider range of vaccines.

The Scottish Government will also make this change to regulations for arrivals here. 

With effect from Monday 22 November, we will recognise vaccines on the World Health Organisation emergency use list as well as those approved in the UK by the MHRA. 

These additional vaccines are Sinopharm and Sinovac, manufactured in China, and Covaxin, manufactured in India. Travellers who have been vaccinated with these products will be eligible for quarantine-free travel if they have a certificate of vaccination status from a country listed in our regulations that meets the data and security standards required at the UK border. 

There are now over 130 countries where we recognise vaccine certificates, although China is not yet on that list. 

There is a process of engagement led by the Foreign Office to work with international partners so that we can bring more countries in scope as soon as possible, where we are satisfied it is safe and secure to do so. Further announcements on this matter will be made on a four-nations basis.

In addition, we will also simplify rules for children under 18 years of age.  All children will now follow the rules for eligible vaccinated travellers, whether or not they are yet fully vaccinated – that means a test on day 2 after arrival, but no isolation and no test before departure or on day 8.

Presiding Officer, the final update I want to give today relates to the COP26 summit in Glasgow.

The summit is one of the most important gatherings of the century so far. The Scottish Government has been doing everything we can to help it make it a success.

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, to ensure the Summit is delivered safely.

COVID-19 has presented 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 in place to ensure the event is 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.

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 is closely involved in operational decisions during the event.

As of 5 November, the cumulative test positivity results for Blue Zone pass-holders, based on lateral flow tests, was around 0.1%. 

However, we are only just passed the midpoint of the conference and we continue to monitor the situation carefully. We will provide a further update following the conclusion of the COP, unless there is a need to do so at an earlier opportunity.

Presiding Officer,

The successful rollout of the vaccination programme has been enabling us to live with far fewer restrictions and mitigations in place than were necessary a few short months ago.

But case numbers remain high – and, looking ahead to the Winter months, there is a real risk they may increase again.

Hundreds of people each week are still being admitted to hospital with Covid. And our NHS is under intense pressure.

COVID remains a threat. 

We all need to play our part in keeping the virus under control.

For that reason, I make no apologies for repeating, again, 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.

It is never too late to get vaccinated. And it remains the single most important thing any of us can do to protect ourselves and the people around us.

Secondly, please take regular LFD tests. These can be ordered through the NHS Inform website, or collected from a local test site or pharmacy.

If an individual tests positive, or are identified as a close contact, or have symptoms of the virus, they should self-isolate and book a PCR test.

And, thirdly, please comply with the mitigations still in place.

Work from home when possible.

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 this will be increasingly difficult as we get deeper into winter but outdoor environments are safer.  

When meeting indoors, open windows – anything to improve ventilation will help.

And try where possible to keep a safe distance from people in other households.

These precautions make a crucial difference. They will protect individuals and the people around us all, and help to ease the burden on our NHS.

I express once again the thanks of the Scottish Government to everyone in Scotland for what they are doing to help protect each other and I encourage people to continue to take the steps necessary to ensure we all remain safe. 


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