I will shortly set out the conclusions of the Scottish Government’s weekly review of the allocation of levels of protection to each local authority area.
However, I will start with a brief summary of the latest Covid statistics.
The total number of positive cases reported yesterday was 754.
This represents 7.3% of all tests carried out, and takes the total number of cases to 95,811.
1,021 people are now in hospital – a decrease of 20 from yesterday.
70 people are in intensive care, a decrease of 5 from yesterday.
And I regret to say that in the last 24 hours, a further 34 deaths have been registered of patients who first tested positive over the previous 28 days.
The total number of deaths, under this measure, is now 3,759.
Those figures remind us that this virus is still taking a toll across Scotland. Once again, my deepest condolences go to all those who have lost a loved one.
I can confirm that the Scottish Government is not proposing any immediate changes today to the levels that currently apply to each local authority area - although as I will outline later, there are some areas that we are monitoring closely.
Overall, though, the latest data shows that the restrictions in place are having an impact. And a positive impact.
Three weeks ago – in the 7 days up to Friday 13 November - an average of 1,116 new Covid cases a day were being recorded.
By last Friday, that had fallen to 863 new cases a day – a reduction of more than 1/5.
Independent estimates also continue to place Scotland’s R number slightly below 1 - which again suggests that infections are declining.
We are also now starting to see a fall in the number of people in hospital and ICU with Covid.
When I updated Parliament three weeks ago, 1,239 people were in hospital with Covid, and 102 people were in intensive care – today, as you have heard, 1,021 people are in hospital and 70 are in intensive care.
So we are making progress.
It is important to stress this because I know that for people who have been in the same level of restrictions for several weeks - and who are still hearing us report high numbers of deaths and new cases each day - it might sometimes seem as though the restrictions are not working.
However that is not the case.
The sacrifices everyone is making are making a difference.
They are getting case numbers down, reducing the numbers getting ill and needing hospital care and so protecting the NHS, and saving lives.
That said, the level of the virus overall - and this is particularly the case in some parts of the country - is still higher than we need it to be.
There are still pressures on the health service – and any increase in rates of infection would intensify those.
As we go into the deeper winter period, there are a number of factors that may well push transmission up again. And so we could see cases and resulting illness and deaths start to rise again.
That means we have an interest in driving cases as low as we can now. And that necessitates continued caution.
In summary, therefore, although we are encouraged by the impact current restrictions have had, the need to strengthen and solidify that progress means that we need to continue to take care and err on the side of caution.
So, for all these reasons, the Cabinet has concluded that we will not make any changes to the levels this week.
It is also the case that the Level 4 restrictions in place in 11 local authority areas will be lifted a week on Friday - 11 December - and so as we decide the levels each of those will go into, we have an opportunity at next week’s review to look at the allocation of levels across the country more generally. It is likely, therefore, that next week’s review will be more substantial.
For now, though, I can confirm that Highland, Moray, Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles, will remain in level 1.
Aberdeen City, Aberdeenshire, Argyll & Bute, the Borders, Dumfries & Galloway and East Lothian will remain in level 2.
However, I need to be clear that we have been looking and will continue to look carefully at Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire.
Cases in both these local authority areas have increased sharply in the last week - by 68% in Aberdeen, and by 42% in Aberdeenshire. That means their case numbers – although still below the nationwide average – are higher than in some level 3 areas such as Angus. Case positivity has also increased in both areas.
However, there is a need to understand more deeply the extent to which these increases are driven by specific outbreaks that are being actively managed within for example food processing and care settings, versus a wider and more general rise in community transmission, which would obviously be a concern - especially as we go further into winter.
I have therefore asked that the data for Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire be considered in more depth over the next couple of days by the Chief Medical Officer and the National Incident Management Team - and discussed with both of the local authorities and the Grampian NHS Director of Public Health.
Given the degree of uncertainty in the information we have had so far - and in recognition of the economic and social impact for any area of a move up to level 3 - we have decided to await this further analysis before reaching a firm conclusion.
If this information justifies a move to level 3, we will set this out either at next week’s review or earlier if the situation merits it.
The other level 2 council I want to make particular mention of is Dumfries & Galloway.
The data there is indicative of a move to level 1 soon - however, the concern at the moment, in addition to general winter factors, is that Dumfries & Galloway area is bordered by areas with significant higher levels of infection. That is why the strong public health advice - which the Cabinet has accepted - is for it to remain in level 2 for now.
In terms of level 3, Angus, Clackmannanshire, Dundee, Edinburgh, Falkirk, Fife, Inverclyde, Midlothian, North Ayrshire, and Perth & Kinross will remain there for now.
Last week, I expressed some concern about rising case numbers in Clackmannanshire and Perth & Kinross - however, I am pleased to note that numbers in both of those areas have stabilised and are improving.
And finally, as I indicated previously, 11 local authority areas will remain in level 4 for one further week. These are Glasgow City, East & West Dunbartonshire, Renfrewshire and East Renfrewshire, North and South Lanarkshire, East and South Ayrshire, Stirling and West Lothian.
We will confirm next week the levels these areas will move into when level 4 restrictions end on 11 December.
Presiding officer, there are three further points I want to update on briefly.
First, I want to highlight the changes we are making from next Monday to eligibility for self-isolation support grants. They mean that potentially eligible individuals no longer have to be receiving universal credit to claim the payment – if their local authority believes that they would qualify for the credit if they applied.
In addition, the grants are now available for people on low incomes who have to stay at home while their children are self-isolating, and who would otherwise lose out as a result of that.
Ensuring that people self-isolate is an essential part of tackling Covid. So the extension of support payments is an important way in which we can help more people to do the right thing.
The second point is to report briefly on the continued expansion of the testing programme. The mass testing of students has started successfully, and all students who are planning to return home for Christmas are advised to take two lateral flow tests a few days apart.
In addition, testing is now available for people without symptoms of Covid, in several communities across Scotland which have had high levels of the virus. For example test sites opened yesterday in Dalmarnock and Pollokshields in Glasgow; in Stewarton in East Ayrshire; and in Girvan in South Ayrshire. Another site opens tomorrow in Johnston in Renfrewshire.
These trials will inform our plans to expand community testing early in the new year - which we hope will be a useful additional tool in reducing prevalence of the virus in areas with high transmission rates.
Finally, I would reiterate that - subject to regulatory decisions - we remain hopeful that even before Christmas, we will be able to start vaccinating people in Scotland against Covid.
The Cabinet reviewed the plans for vaccination this morning.
And I can confirm that we are ready to begin that process as soon we receive the first supplies of vaccine.
And we hope that by the spring, a significant proportion of the people who are most vulnerable to Covid will have been vaccinated.
Vaccination, over time, will help us all to return to a more normal pattern of life.
And of course that means that a possible route out of pandemic for Scotland is in sight.
So we have all the more reason to keep each other safe, as we help each other reach that end.
Sticking to the rules and guidelines – now maybe even more than ever – continues to be the way in which we do that. It is how we show our compassion for, and solidarity with, each other.
So I would ask for continued compliance in the weeks ahead.
Outside of the three island authorities, none of us should meet in each other’s homes.
Meetings outdoors or in public indoor places should stay within the limits of 6 people, from 2 households.
I ask everyone to continue to abide by travel restrictions– if you live in a level 3 or 4 area, do not leave your local authority area unless for an essential purpose. If you live elsewhere, do not travel into a level 3 or level 4 area. And avoid non-essential travel between Scotland and other parts of the UK.
Finally, remember FACTS – the five rules which will help keep us all safe in our day to day lives:
Wear face coverings; avoid crowded spaces; clean hands and hard surfaces; keep two metre distancing; and self-isolate, and book a test, if you have symptoms.
If we all sticking to those rules continues to be the way in which we can look after ourselves, our loved ones and our communities. It is how we protect our NHS, and help our health and care workers. And it is how we can put ourselves in the best position possible to deal with winter, and to look ahead to spring.
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