Statement given by the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at a media briefing in St Andrew’s House, Edinburgh.

Good afternoon everyone.

As you can see, I’m joined by the Chief Medical Officer today, and he will take questions with me shortly.

Before that though I want to reflect on our current Covid situation and, in doing that, I will also look ahead briefly to the statement I will make to Parliament next week.

But before any of that, I’ll summarize today’s statistics.

Yesterday there were 2,802 positive cases reported, which is 8% of all of the tests that were carried out.

The total number of confirmed cases now stands at 306,449.

There are 401 people who are currently in hospital  – that is 14 more than yesterday.

And 38 people are receiving intensive care, and that is 4 more than yesterday.

Sadly 4 further deaths were reported over the past 24 hours, and that takes the total number of deaths registered under this daily definition to 7,744.

As always, I want to convey my thoughts and condolences to everyone who has been bereaved over the course of this pandemic.

I’ll also briefly update on the progress of the vaccination programme.

As of this morning, 3,900,864 people had received a first dose of vaccine.

That is an increase of 10,688 since yesterday.

In addition to that, yesterday 16,984 people got the second dose and that brings the total number of second doses to 2,825,886.

So as you can see from these numbers, the vaccine programme continues to make really good progress and that should make us optimistic. For now though, that optimism needs to be balanced by concern at the high case numbers we’ve seen recently – a pattern that is increasingly evident in other countries as well.

However, on the upside – and while there will always be daily fluctuations as we can see, and that’s why we look most closely at 7 day averages – looking at the figures reported over the past few days, we can see the suggestion that the recent surge in cases may be, to some extent, levelling off now.  Today’s reported figure, for example, represents 1,432 fewer cases than were reported on this day last week.

Similarly, if we look at the seven day average, there does appear to be a slowdown in the rise in positive cases.

So while we need to monitor this in the days to come, that is encouraging news but obviously case numbers remain high.  And that is a worry.

We increasingly hear talk just now of learning to live with the virus, which we all want to be able to do.

And it is true, absolutely true, that we can’t live a restricted way of life forever – because that in itself affects our health and wellbeing. And it is also true, thankfully, that vaccines are offering us an alternative way forward. However, that desire to just live with it cannot mean that we simply throw all caution to the wind and no longer worry at all about rising levels of infection.

And I want to just set out briefly why we can’t simply through all caution to the wind.

Firstly, this virus is still potentially dangerous. As we see almost every day just now, it is still taking lives – though mercifully, thanks to the vaccines, it is doing so in far fewer numbers than we saw in earlier stages.

Secondly, even though the majority – a quite significant majority – of cases are now in younger people, who are much less likely to become acutely ill, the health impacts can still be significant. Many young people are suffering from long Covid, which of course experts still don’t fully understand.

So it would be wrong and irresponsible – because our young people are not guinea pigs – to have no concern at all about young people being infected with this virus.

And, thirdly, even though far fewer people with Covid are ending up in hospital now –

around 3% of all cases compared to 13% earlier in the year – and that’s mainly because vaccines are giving protection to those that previously were most likely to fall seriously ill, it is still the case that 3% of a high number of positive cases will still put significant pressure on our NHS. That’s a matter of basic arithmetic.

And because the NHS is much busier again with non-Covid care – which is a good thing because we are trying to catch up on the backlog created earlier in the pandemic when we had to stop a lot of non-Covid care – that pressure will be felt now much more quickly.

And it is already being felt in our NHS. Already some hospitals are having to scale back a bit on Covid elective care again. And  I just want to take the opportunity again today to pay tribute to everybody working really hard in our NHS up and down the country.

So for all of these reasons – while it is still the case, and this bit hasn’t changed, that vaccines are offering us the way out of this, hopefully soon – this is a moment for care and caution.

And that’s not true just here in Scotland, although we are undoubtedly at the sharp end of this Delta curve.

But increasingly we see and hear other countries, faced with an accelerating Delta wave, also re-emphasise the need for caution.

It is worth pointing out – and I am doing this non-pejoratively, just as a statement of fact and because the pressure is always there for Scotland to follow suit – I think it is worth pointing out that the path the UK government is embarking on for England, which is entirely a matter for them, a path of not just lifting all restrictions from 19 July, but also removing the requirement for basic mitigations like face masks, and doing so against the backdrop of sharply increasing case numbers, is something of an exception.

So while I totally understand the desire that some have for us to follow suit in every single respect, we have to think carefully about the steps we do take at this juncture.

My job is not to take the easy decisions in a quest for popularity.

It is to do what I think is most likely to keep the country as safe as possible as we get to the end of the vaccination programme.

You’ve heard me use the analogy before – and I’m far from the only person to have used it – that this is a race between the virus and the vaccines.

Over the next few weeks as we complete the vaccination programme, it is really important that we don’t let the virus outrun us.

So that brings me on to the second issue I want to just briefly cover today, which is the statement I will make to Parliament next Tuesday.

As you know, when we published our revised strategic framework, we said that 19 July was the indicative date for Scotland’s move to level 0.

Next Tuesday, ahead of that date, I will set out to Parliament the final decision that the Cabinet will reach on Tuesday morning on whether and to what extent that move is able to proceed.

It is worth noting – again, just as a statement of fact, not because I want you to read anything particular into this – that these decisions needn’t always be binary. It is always possible to proceed with some planned changes but hold back on others if we think that is appropriate.

Obviously though, I very much hope we will be able to move ahead as planned – and the apparent slowing down in the case numbers gives me more cause for optimism about that than I might have had a week ago – but nevertheless between now and Tuesday, we will continue to monitor very carefully the latest data on cases, but also on hospitalizations and deaths to see whether that weakening of the link between cases and severe illness is continuing.

So that is a decision I will set out on Tuesday and I don’t want to pre-empt that decision any further today, but there is one point I do want to emphasise – particularly given that I’m very aware the media will be full of talk of so-called Freedom Day in relation to England and I absolutely understand everybody’s desire to get to what is called Freedom Day here as quickly as possible.

But as the case numbers show, Covid is still with us. It is still present across the globe and it is going to be around for some time to come.

So it is important, I think, just to remind all of us that a move to level 0 does not mean the immediate end of all restrictions.

Many of the baseline measures we use – things like face coverings, physical distancing, rigorous hand hygiene, advising on good ventilation – these are going to continue to be important mitigations in protecting ourselves and others from the virus, perhaps for some time yet.

So no matter what our decision is next week about the move to level 0, there won’t be an abrupt end to these basic protective measures when we do move to level 0.  Obviously I will set out more about that in the statement I make next week.

To finish though, I want to remind everyone of the three things all of us can do to help beat this virus.

We hopefully are seeing a slowdown in the rate of increase that we’ve had in the last couple of weeks. That’s good news. The vaccination programme continues to go well, we’ve got drop in clinics in every part of mainland Scotland to encourage people to come forward for vaccinations. So we have cause and reason to continue to be optimistic – but this is a moment in our path out of this pandemic for us to be careful and cautious.

All of us have a part to play and I just want to end by reiterating the things that all of us can do to help get us back to that position of normality as quickly as possible.

The first is to get vaccinated as soon as you are invited to do so. If you are over 18 years of age, you should have had your invitation for the first jag by now. So if you haven’t had that, you can self-register on the NHS Inform website to get an appointment or  you can go to one of the drop-in clinics.

As I said a moment ago, there are open clinics in all mainland health board areas and you can find details of the one nearest to you on NHS Inform website or on the social media accounts of your own health board

These drop in clinics are also available to anyone who has had a first dose 8 weeks or more ago but hasn’t yet had a second dose.

I simply can’t emphasise enough just how important it is that we all get vaccinated with both doses.  So please get both jags as soon as you can and the NHS Inform website is a place to go if you need more information on how to get your jag.

The second thing we’re asking everyone to do, is to take the opportunity to test yourself regularly. That’s particularly important if you are planning to visit somebody or go somewhere.  If you take a test before you go, you will reduce the risk of you inadvertently spreading the virus if you perhaps have it and don’t have symptoms. So it helps protect those that you will be coming into contact with.

You can get lateral flow tests through the NHS inform website.  That way you can get them sent to you by post. But you can also pick them up from local and regional test centres, or from local pharmacies.

If you test positive through one of these lateral flow devices – or if you have symptoms of the virus – please make sure that you self-isolate, and that you book a PCR test as quickly as possible.

And if you are identified as a close contact of someone with Covid, you will be asked to self-isolate for 10 days – so please do that. We are reviewing the policy on isolation for contacts of positive cases for the future and will set out our intentions on that shortly. But for now it remains an important mitigation.

The third and final thing we’re asking people to do is stick to the rules wherever you live, and keep following the basic hygiene measures.

Meet other people outdoors as much as possible.

If you are meeting indoors, stick to the limits on group sizes, follow the advice around hygiene and ventilation and remember that is important even if you are meeting indoors to watch the football or other sport.

And please remember physical distancing, hand-washing, face coverings – all of these basic mitigations still help us to limit the spread of this virus.

And if, like I’m sure most of us have been over the past few weeks, you have been slipping on these things this is a moment to tighten up again as we hopefully embark on this next and final phase of getting out of the Covid restrictions.

So those are the key things we’re asking everybody do to. We’re all thoroughly sick of every single aspect of this. I don’t just know that, I feel that, but it’s really important that, having come so far, and having hopefully an effective end point to this in sight, that we stick with it to make sure not just that we get to that end point but that we get to that end point as safely as possible.

So thank you for your continued patience, thank you for your continued forbearance with all of this, and please continue to stick with it.

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