FM Nicola Sturgeon and Dumbarton MSP Jackie Baillie.
By Bill Heaney
The relaxation of restrictions to allow families and friends to come together if absolutely necessary is necessarily limited, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told the Holyrood parliament today.
She said: ” The guidelines set out what we think is a proportionate and careful approach to rules around socialising.
“We cannot ignore the fact that any relaxation of measures carries additional risk, so the temporary easing is about helping people, particularly those who might otherwise be on their own at Christmas.
“We have considered the impact of the changes on those working through the festive break as well as on key workers, but, reluctantly, we will not be able to extend that period any further for any particular groups.
“We appreciate that many people will not be able to celebrate Christmas in their usual way, but we believe that we have put forward a sensible position that will help us through this period, hopefully on the way to greater normality as a result of the vaccinations that will begin soon.
Dumbarton MSP Jackie Baillie asked the FM : “In July 2020, the First Minister said that Scotland did not have a problem with Covid deaths in care homes.
“Deaths from care homes are not included in the daily figures. About two weeks ago, the numbers stood at 2,240 deaths—some 42 per cent of the total from Covid so far.
“That is more than 10 per cent higher than in England, and the trend is, unfortunately, increasing, with more than five times as many deaths now than there were a month ago. Therefore, there is a need to work faster than is proposed.
“Families will be visiting loved ones in care homes at Christmas, so will the First Minister ensure that there is rapid, even daily, testing for staff, residents and families in all care homes over Christmas, to keep everybody safe?”
Ms Sturgeon replied: “First, I genuinely think that Jackie Baillie misunderstands the basis of the daily figures that we report on deaths.
“They include anybody who has a registered death and who tested positive within the previous 20 days, regardless of the setting in which they died, and the wider National Records of Scotland figures include cases of people who have died where the relationship to Covid is presumed, not confirmed through a test, so it is not true to say that care home deaths are not included in the daily figures.
“Secondly, I have never said that we do not have a problem with care home deaths. What I have challenged—and I will demonstrate this—is that there is a particularly severe problem in Scotland relative to other parts of the United Kingdom.
“I have recognised and will recognise forever that we have had a problem with care home deaths, and I do not think that it is fair to suggest that I have said anything other than that.
“The point that I have challenged is the point that Jackie Baillie has made, which is that, somehow, the level of care home deaths in Scotland from Covid is significantly higher than that in other parts of the United Kingdom, and England in particular.
“Members can see the reason why I challenge that. Let me say that the number is too high—I am not suggesting otherwise. However, the reason why I challenge that suggestion is that the figures, which are drawn from the NRS for Scotland and the Office for National Statistics for England and Wales, show that excess deaths in care homes in England have been higher than they have been in Scotland.
“In Scotland, a greater proportion of them have been attributed to Covid. It is for other people to say what the excess deaths in England that are not attributed to Covid have been caused by.
“But it strikes me that, perhaps, one of the reasons for the differential in figures is that we are attributing more of those deaths, perhaps accurately, to Covid.
“On testing in care homes, the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport [Jeane Freeman] has set out the plans for that, and we will take them forward in a proper and considered way.
“It is because we are concerned about any potential for the number of deaths in care homes to start to rise again that we are being cautious about things such as visiting, which is difficult for families but is part of the important balance that we have to strike.”
The First Minister updated MSPs on the latest numbers.
She said: “The total number of positive cases reported yesterday was 754, or 7.3 per cent of all tests carried out. The total number of cases stands at 95,811. One thousand and twenty-one people are in hospital—a decrease of 20 from yesterday—and 70 people are in intensive care, which is 5 fewer than yesterday.
“However, I regret to say that, in the past 24 hours, a further 34 deaths have been registered of patients who had tested positive in the previous 28 days, and that the total number of deaths, under that measurement, is now 3,759.
“Those figures remind us of course that the virus is still taking a toll across the country and, again, my thoughts and condolences are with everyone who has been bereaved.
At the outset, I confirm that the Scottish Government is not today proposing any immediate changes to the levels that currently apply to each local authority area, although, as I will outline in a moment, there are some areas that we are monitoring closely. Overall, though, the latest data shows that the restrictions that are in place are, we believe, having a positive impact.
“Three weeks ago—in the seven days to Friday 13 November—an average of 1,116 new cases a day was being recorded. By last Friday, that had fallen to 863 new cases a day, which is a reduction of more than one fifth. Independent estimates also continue to place the R number slightly below 1; again, that is indicative of a decline in infections.
“We are also now starting to see a fall in the number of people who are in hospital and intensive care units with Covid. When I updated Parliament three weeks ago, 1,239 people were in hospital with Covid—102 in intensive care.
“Today, as members just heard me report, 1,021 people are in hospital and 70 are in intensive care. The figures are coming down, which means that—taking all of that into account—I can say with some confidence that we are making good progress at this stage.
“It is important to stress that, because I know that for some people whose area has been in the same level of restrictions for some time, and who are still hearing us report high numbers of deaths and new cases each day, it can sometimes seem as though the restrictions are not working.
“It is important to stress that that is not the case. The sacrifices that everyone is making are making a difference. They are getting case numbers down, reducing the numbers who get ill and need hospital care and therefore protecting the national health service and saving lives.
“That said—and I have made this point previously—the level of the virus overall, particularly in some parts of the country, is still higher than we need it to be. There are still pressures on the health service, which any increase in rates of infection would quickly intensify.
“As we go deeper into the winter, a number of factors might well push transmission up again, and we could see cases and resulting illness and deaths start to rise again. That means that we have an interest in driving cases as low as we can now. That necessitates continued caution.
“In summary, therefore, although we are encouraged by the impact that the current restrictions have had, the need to strengthen and solidify that progress means that we should continue to take care and err on the side of caution. For all those reasons, the Cabinet, when it discussed the matter earlier today, concluded that we will not propose any changes to the levels this week.
“It is also the case that the level 4 restrictions that are in place in 11 local authority areas will be lifted a week on Friday—11 December—so, as we decide the levels into which each of those areas will go, we will have an opportunity at next week’s review to look at the allocation of levels across the country more generally. I flag up right now that it is likely, therefore, that next week’s review will be more substantial than today’s.”