By Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister 

I take this opportunity to say how sorry I am for my breach of the rules that I ask us all to follow every single day. I took my face mask off while briefly attending a funeral purvey last week.

I am sure that everyone will have seen in the media this morning a picture of me without it. I want to be clear today that, regardless of the circumstances, I was in the wrong. There are no excuses.

The rules apply to me just as they do to everyone else, and the rules really matter. I am kicking myself very hard, possibly harder than my worst critic ever could. More important, I will be making sure that I do not drop my guard again.

The number of cases reported yesterday was 1,190—five per cent of all tests reported—and the total number of cases is now 115,566. There are currently 1,025 people in hospital, which is 20 fewer than yesterday, and 56 people in intensive care, which is four fewer than yesterday.

I very much regret to report that, in the past 24 hours, a further 47 deaths were registered of patients who first tested positive in the previous 28 days. The total number of people who have therefore died under that daily measurement is 4,373.

National Records of Scotland has also just published its weekly update, which includes cases in which Covid is a suspected or contributory cause of death, even if it has not been confirmed through a test. Today’s update shows that, by last Sunday, the total number of registered deaths linked to Covid under that wider definition was 6,298, 203 of which were registered last week, which is 23 fewer than in the previous week. Again, I convey my deepest condolences to everyone who has been bereaved.

I have three points that I would like to update members on. The first is the situation in relation to cross-channel trade. The news that France has lifted its ban on accompanied freight vehicles is welcome, but important challenges remain to clearing the backlog. As part of that, it is important that the transport of perishable goods, including seafood, is prioritised, and the Scottish Government is ready to help in any way that we can, including with the testing of drivers.

Secondly, Public Health Scotland has just published its weekly statistical report, which includes an update on vaccinations. It shows that, by Sunday, more than 56,000 people had received their first dose of the vaccine. That is a significant achievement in the short time that it has been available.

My third and final point is that we will shortly publish the latest estimate of the R number. We expect that it will show that the R number is still around 1 in Scotland, which is a concern, given that it is thought that the new variant of Covid could raise the R number by 0.4.

Those final two points demonstrate where we are at present. The progress with vaccinations gives us grounds for hope, but the overall state of the pandemic is a cause for concern. Our immediate priority has to be to get through these next few weeks and months as safely as possible. That will be even more difficult than expected, given that the new variant of Covid seems to transmit more easily than other strains of the virus.

That is why, unfortunately, we are imposing such tough restrictions from boxing day onwards. It is also why the safest way for indoor Christmas day celebrations is within your own household and in your own home. Please do not meet other people indoors if you can possibly avoid it.

It is also why all of us, however hard it is, need to continue to stick to the current rules and guidelines, and that includes FACTS. So, with an enormous dose of humility, I remind everyone—most importantly, myself—of FACTS: people should use face coverings; avoid crowded places; clean their hands and surfaces regularly; keep 2m distance from people in other households; and self-isolate and get tested if they have symptoms. Those actions will work against the new strain of the virus and they mean that, while the vaccination programme proceeds, we can continue to protect ourselves, our loved ones and our national health service.

I take this opportunity to wish everyone a healthy and peaceful Christmas and—as I think we all hope—a brighter and better 2021.

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