FIRST MINISTER SPELLS OUT THE LATEST COVID RULES FOR READERS OF THE DEMOCRAT

By First Minister Nicola Sturgeon

In this statement, I will update Parliament on the Scottish Government’s assessment of the course of the pandemic, and on the decisions that flow from it in relation to the levels of protection that will apply to each local authority area from Saturday. In addition, I indicated at the end of last week that I would give an update on the situation in Glasgow by no later than Wednesday, and I confirm that I will do so today.

Before any of those updates, however, I will report on today’s statistics. The total number of reported positive cases yesterday was 478, which is 3.1 per cent of the total number of tests that were conducted. Therefore, the total number of confirmed cases is now 236,389. One hundred and six people are currently in hospital, which is four fewer than yesterday, and 10 people are receiving intensive care, which is two more than yesterday. I am relieved to say that no deaths were reported yesterday, which means that the total number of deaths registered under the daily definition remains at 7,669. However, I want to convey my condolences again to everyone who has lost a loved one.

I will also give an update on the vaccination programme. As at 7.30 this morning, 3,267,290 people in Scotland had received their first dose of the vaccine—around 72 per cent of the total adult population—which represents an increase of 16,152 since yesterday. In addition, 30,978 people received their second dose yesterday, which brings the total number of second doses to 2,075,231, or around 46 per cent of the adult population.

The decisions that we have arrived at today are difficult and complex, and reflect the fact that we are currently at a delicate and fragile point in what we hope is a transition to a different way of dealing with this virus. In summary, we believe that vaccinations are opening the path to a less restrictive way of dealing with Covid—one that is less driven by case numbers. However, not all adults have been fully vaccinated with two doses to date, so we are not quite there yet.

To compound the challenge further, we are also dealing with a new and faster-spreading variant as we make this transition, which is, of course, a new development that has arisen since we set out our indicative route map in March. All of that means that, at this critical stage, we must still err on the side of caution to avoid being completely knocked off course.

I will now share more detail of all the decisions. The considerable downside that we now face is the Indian or April-02 variant, which the World Health Organization last night renamed the delta variant. That variant is spreading faster than previous variants of the virus, and we now believe that it accounts for well over half of our new daily cases. Scotland’s R number is now almost certainly above 1 because of that situation.

As we know from painful past experience, that makes our situation highly precarious. Indeed, many public health experts are warning that the United Kingdom could—I stress “could”—now be at the start of a third wave of the virus. Obviously, it would be wrong to completely ignore that warning; however—this is the considerable upside—we now have a significant advantage that we did not have in the first or second waves.

We are increasingly confident that the vaccines are effective, although we are closely monitoring the vaccination status of people who are admitted to hospital. We now have evidence that the link between cases and serious illness, hospitalisation and deaths appears to be weakening. For example, since January, the proportion of new cases that lead to hospital admission in Scotland has reduced—on current estimates, from 10 per cent to 5 per cent—although it is important to say that we are still assessing the recent impact of the new variant. In addition, the length of time that people are spending in hospital has been reducing markedly since the new year, although we are monitoring the data closely and carefully.

The emerging evidence is providing us with a firm basis for believing that, in the coming phase of the pandemic, we will be able to deal with the virus differently and less restrictively. However—this is why I have described our current situation as a transition—although we are vaccinating as quickly as possible and trying to speed up vaccinations, a sizeable proportion of the population is still not yet fully vaccinated. Full vaccination is vital. After one dose, protection against the delta variant is not negligible, but neither is it substantial. It is after two doses that the protection is much stronger. Therefore, if cases continue to rise significantly for too long a period while significant numbers are not fully vaccinated, we could still see a significant burden of illness and death, and severe pressure on our national health service.

It is also worth pausing to reflect on what protecting the NHS, which has been a key aim throughout the pandemic, means in the current context. After coping with the pandemic for more than a year, the NHS is now seeking to get non-Covid treatment back on track. That means that protecting the NHS cannot only be about preventing it from being completely overwhelmed, although that is, of course, vital; it must also be about protecting its ability to get services back to normal. Therefore, even though the health service coped earlier this year, when more than 2,000 people were in hospital—albeit with enormous pressure on the workforce—that should not be our benchmark. Anything remotely like that again would set back our efforts to get the NHS operating normally again.

This is a key and difficult moment. We remain on the right track overall. I remain confident that with cautious, albeit difficult, decisions now, we will enjoy much greater normality over the summer and beyond. None of our decisions today, even in the face of rising case numbers, takes us backwards. Although I know that it is hard to think in such terms more than a year into a pandemic, that represents real progress from the start of the year. Back then, a new variant and rising case numbers took us backwards into a full lockdown. That is not the case today, and due to the vaccination programme, we can still look ahead with confidence. However—this is the difficult part—in areas in which cases are relatively high or rising, our judgment is that a slight slowing down of the easing of restrictions to allow time for more people to be fully vaccinated will help to protect that progress overall.

That leads me to the decisions that we are setting out today. It is important to recognise that the picture across the country is not uniform, and so our decisions are not uniform either. That is the benefit of the levels system: we do not need to apply a one-size-fits-all approach with the same levels of restrictions in areas with low or more contained case numbers as we have in areas with high or rising numbers. However, a variable system has its downsides. It is more complex, it is impossible to remove every anomaly, it is not without risk and, of course, it can lead to a sense of inequity. That is why it is important to set out as clearly as possible why different areas are subject to different restrictions, while recognising that those decisions are complex.

Let me turn now to those decisions. Given that it has been in a unique situation for the past couple of weeks, I will talk about Glasgow first and separately.

I reported on Friday that the situation in Glasgow appeared to be stabilising. I am pleased to say that that remains the case. Indeed, case numbers have fallen slightly in recent days from 146 cases to 129 cases per 100,000 people. That provides further evidence that the major public health interventions over the past few weeks are having an impact. In addition, although the number of hospital admissions is rising, the vaccination effect means that admissions are not, at least at this stage, increasing as fast as they might have done from a similar level of cases earlier in the year.

It is important that we consider the harms that are caused by the virus alongside the other harms that on-going restrictions cause. Those include wider health harms, social harms and economic harms. The wider harms are not insignificant in Glasgow, given that it is now more than eight months since, for example, we were last allowed to visit one other in our homes.

Taking all that into account, with the support of the national incident management team, I confirm that Glasgow City will move down to level 2 from midnight on Friday into Saturday. That means that—as has been the case for people in most of the rest of Scotland since mid-May—people in Glasgow will be able to meet in homes in groups of no more than six people from a maximum of three households. It also means that indoor licensed hospitality can reopen, and that people can travel again between Glasgow and other parts of Scotland. A number of venues will be permitted to reopen, and outdoor adult contact sports can resume.

Those changes are significant. As someone who lives in Glasgow, I know that they will make a huge difference to quality of life. However, I ask everyone to remember that, although stable and starting to decline, the number of cases in Glasgow still remains high. Please continue to be cautious. In particular—this applies to all of Scotland, particularly while we enjoy better weather—although limited indoor meetings are now possible, it is still better to stay outdoors, where possible. In level 2 areas, groups of up to eight people from up to eight households can gather outdoors.

The past eight months and perhaps the past couple of weeks, in particular, have been really tough for Glasgow. I thank everyone who has co-operated with all the public health measures and stuck to all the rules and guidelines.

I will now turn to other parts of the country. First, I will set out the difficult part of this statement.

In addition to Glasgow, there are a number of other local authority areas that are not currently meeting the criteria for level 1, either in case numbers or test positivity. Indeed, if we look at just the raw numbers, it could be argued that some of those areas should be in level 3. However, based on the emerging evidence of the impact of vaccines on hospitalisation, which I spoke about a moment ago, and on our assessment of local factors and public health interventions, our judgment is that level 3 would not be proportionate at this stage.

However, it is also our judgment that, with case numbers as high as they are in those areas, and with a substantial proportion of adults not yet double dosed, it is safer and more likely to protect our overall progress if we hold those areas in level 2 for a further period. In addition to Glasgow, that applies to Edinburgh, Midlothian, Dundee, East Dunbartonshire, Renfrewshire, East Renfrewshire, the three Ayrshires, North Lanarkshire, South Lanarkshire, Clackmannanshire and Stirling.

I know that that will be disappointing for people in those areas. For those local authority areas, we will provide support to soft-play businesses and other closed sectors that had expected to open or to operate in a different way from 7 June. Full details will be provided tomorrow by the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy.

It is important to stress that this is a pause and not a step backwards, and that level 2 is not lockdown. It has an impact on opening hours of pubs and restaurants and the number of people who can attend certain events, but we can still meet indoors in limited numbers or outdoors in groups of eight people from eight households. Hospitality remains open—indoors and outdoors—as does retail, and there are no travel restrictions in place.

Taking a cautious approach now, while more people get fully vaccinated, gives us the best chance of staying on the right track overall, so I ask everyone in those areas to continue to be careful. They should follow all the important guidance on hygiene, distancing and face coverings; they should keep getting tested; and they should come forward to be vaccinated as soon as they get the opportunity.

Jackie Bailie MSP, Tam Murray, of The Glencairn in Bridge Street, Dumbarton and Labour MSP Neil Bibby. Picture by Fred Wymark

In more positive news, there are many parts of mainland Scotland where the numbers of cases are at very low levels and are broadly stable, or where case numbers might appear to be rising but we are assured that they relate to clusters that are being managed. I confirm that the following local authority areas will move to level 1 from 1 minute past midnight on Saturday morning: Highland, Argyll and Bute [includes Helensburgh, Cardross and Lochside] , Aberdeen City, Aberdeenshire, Moray, Angus, Perth and Kinross, Falkirk, Fife, Inverclyde, East Lothian, West Lothian, West Dunbartonshire [Dumbarton, Vale of Leven and Clydebank],Dumfries and Galloway and the Borders.

The full details of what that means are set out on the Scottish Government website. The main changes are that the limit on meetings in indoor public places increases to eight people from three households, and on meetings outdoors to 12 people from 12 households; 100 people, as opposed to 50, can attend weddings and funerals; and places such as soft-play centres and funfairs can reopen.

Again, I know that those changes will be welcome, but I ask people please to continue to be careful. That applies to all of us right now. In particular, meeting outdoors involves much less risk than meeting indoors.

Shetland, Orkney, the Western Isles and a number of small remote islands are already in level 1. Those communities are continuing to report extremely low numbers of new cases and, in many cases, a higher than average proportion of adults there have received both doses of vaccine. Those areas will therefore move to level 0, again from 1 minute past midnight on Saturday morning.

Full details of what those changes mean can be found on the Scottish Government’s website: for example, that people can meet indoors in groups of up to four households; that local licensing laws apply to hospitality venues—there is no set nationwide closing time; and that the maximum attendance at weddings and funerals will be 200, rather than 100 at level 1 and 50 at level 2.

Again, though, as well as asking islanders to exercise continued care, I remind anyone travelling to any of the islands to use a lateral flow test before doing so. In that way, they will minimise the risk of taking the virus to any of those communities.

I appreciate that today’s decisions will feel like—and are—a mixed bag. That reflects the fact that we are in a transitional phase. The vaccines make the outlook positive, but the new variant means that the road ahead is still potentially bumpy. Caution is therefore necessary.

That said, no part of the country is going backwards today. Before the vaccines, that would have been impossible in the face of such case numbers. However, the vaccines are changing the game, so we can still be very optimistic about our chances of much more normality over the summer and beyond.

In the days ahead, albeit that life beyond level 0 might still feel a long way off for many of us, we will publish more detailed work on what we expect that to look like as, hopefully, greater normality returns. Indeed, one reason for proceeding with more caution now is to make it easier in the future to resume that progress to level 0 and then beyond it.

The point on which I will finish is to say that, as always, we all have a part to play in beating the virus back, so, please get tested regularly. Free lateral flow tests are available through the NHS Inform website. I encourage everyone to order those and to test themselves twice a week. The lateral flow tests give results in about half an hour, so they are a quick and useful way of finding out whether you have the virus, even if you do not have any symptoms. In essence, the more we all get tested, the more cases we will find, and the more we will break chains of transmission. Getting tested regularly is a way for us all to contribute to the collective effort.

Secondly, make sure that you get vaccinated when you are invited to do so. That includes going for second doses. To repeat what I said earlier, second doses are vital in providing substantial protection against the virus—in particular, against the new variant. If you cannot make an appointment—and there will often be good reasons why that is the case—then please make sure that you rearrange it. If you have not received an appointment letter yet but think that you should have, you can go to the vaccinations page of the NHS Inform website to arrange your appointment.

Getting vaccinated is in the best interests of each of us; whatever age we are, it makes it much less likely that we will become badly ill from Covid. However, it is also part of our wider civic duty to each other; it means that we can all help to suppress the virus and reduce the harm that it causes. That will allow us to get to being able to deal with the situation in a less restrictive way than has been the case.

Finally, I ask everybody please to continue to stick to the rules where they live, and to follow the public health advice. Physical distancing, hand washing and face coverings are all still important. Those basic precautions will reduce our chances of getting or of spreading the virus.

In summary: please get tested regularly, get vaccinated when you are asked, and continue to follow the public health advice. If we all do that, we can—despite a pause for part of the country today—keep on the right track and make progress, over the summer, towards living much less restricted lives. I again thank everyone across the country for helping us to do exactly that.

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