Coronavirus in Scotland: Nicola Sturgeon levels statement in full

Presiding Officer. In my statement today, I will update the chamber on the Scottish Government’s assessment of the course of the pandemic, and on the decisions that flow from that in relation to the levels of protection that will apply to each local authority area from Saturday.

Tuesday, 1st June 2021, 3:21 pm

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 can confirm that I will also do that today.

However, before any of that, I will report on today’s statistics The total number of positive cases reported yesterday was 478.

That represents 3.1 per cent of the total number of tests, and takes the total number of confirmed cases in Scotland to 236,389.

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Nicola Sturgeon has announced that some Scottish areas have been kept in lower levels due to the success of the Covid vaccine programme. Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire
Nicola Sturgeon has announced that some Scottish areas have been kept in lower levels due to the success of the Covid vaccine programme. Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire

106 people are currently in hospital – that is 4 fewer than yesterday.

Ten people are in intensive care, which is 2 more than yesterday.

And zero deaths were reported yesterday. That means the total number of deaths registered, under the daily definition, remains at 7,669.

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Once again, I want to send my condolences to all those who have lost a loved one. I can also provide an update on the vaccination programme.

As of 7.30 this morning, 3,267,290 people in Scotland have received their first dose of the vaccine. That is 72 per cent of the total adult population – and 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. That is 46 per cent of the total adult population.

Presiding Officer, the decisions we have arrived at today are difficult and complex ones.

This reflects 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 less driven by case numbers.

But because not all adults have been fully vaccinated with two doses so far, we are not quite there yet.

And as we make this transition – just to compound the challenge – we are also dealing with a new, faster spreading variant.

This is, of course, a new development that has arisen since we set out our indicative route map back in March.

All of this means that at this critical stage – to avoid being knocked off course completely – we must still err on the side of caution.

I will share more detail of all of this now. The considerable downside we face just now is the Indian or April 0.2 variant – renamed last night by the World Health Organisation as Delta.

This variant is spreading faster than previous variants of the virus, and we now believe it accounts for well over half of our daily cases.

Because of that, Scotland’s R number is almost certainly above 1. As we know from past, painful experience, that makes our situation highly precarious.

Indeed, many public health experts are warning that the UK could now be at the start of a third wave of the virus.

However - and this is the considerable upside - we now have a significant advantage that we didn’t have in the first or second wave. We are increasingly confident that the vaccines are effective - though we are closely

monitoring the vaccination status of people admitted to hospital.

And we now have evidence that the link between cases and serious illness, hospitalisation and deaths appears to be weakening.

For example, since January in Scotland, the proportion of new cases which lead to hospital admission 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 people spend in hospital has been reducing quite markedly since the new year – though, again, we are monitoring the data closely and carefully.

This emerging evidence is providing a firm basis to believe that in this next phase of the pandemic, we will be able to deal with the virus differently and less restrictively.

However - and this is why I have described our current situation as a transition – although we are vaccinating as quickly as possible, there is still a sizeable proportion of the population not yet fully vaccinated.

And full vaccination is vital. Protection against the Delta variant after one dose is not negligible – but it is not substantial either. It is after two doses that the protection is much stronger.

So if cases continue to rise significantly, for too long a period of time, while significant numbers are not fully vaccinated, we could still see a significant burden of illness and death, and severe pressure on our NHS.

It might also be worth reflecting on what ‘protecting the NHS’ – a key aim throughout this pandemic - means in this 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 protecting the NHS can’t just 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.

So even although the health service ‘coped’ earlier this year, when more than 2,000 people were in hospital – albeit with enormous pressure on the workforce – that shouldn’t be our benchmark. Anything remotely like that again would set back efforts to get the NHS operating normally again.

So 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 – take us backwards.

And, while I know it is hard to think in these terms more than a year into a pandemic, this does represent progress from the start of the year – back then, a new variant, and rising case numbers, took us backwards into full lockdown.

That is not the case today, and because of the vaccination programme we can still look ahead with confidence.

But - and this is the difficult part - in areas where 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 protect our progress overall.

That leads me to the decisions we are announcing 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 don’t 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 do in areas with high or rising numbers.

However, a variable system also 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 these 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 this remains the case. Indeed, case numbers have fallen slightly in recent days – from 146 cases per hundred

thousand people, to 129.

This provides further evidence that the major public health interventions we have seen over the last few weeks are having an impact.

In addition, although hospital admissions are rising, the vaccination effect means they 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 also important that we consider the harms caused by the virus, alongside the other harms that ongoing restrictions cause. These include wider health harms, social harms, and economic harms.

These 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 each other in our homes.

Taking all of this into account - and with the support of the National Incident Management Team – I can confirm that Glasgow City will move to level 2 from midnight on Friday into Saturday.

This means that people in Glasgow - as has been the case in most of the rest of Scotland since mid May - will be able to meet in homes in groups of no more than 6, from a maximum of 3 households. It also means that indoor licensed hospitality can reopen, and that people can travel again between Glasgow and the other parts of Scotland.

A number of venues will also be permitted to reopen, and outdoor adult contact sports can resume.

These changes are significant. As someone who lives in Glasgow, I know they will make a huge difference to quality of life.

But I ask everyone to remember that though stable and starting to decline, cases in Glasgow do still remain high – so please continue to be cautious.

In particular - and this actually applies to all of Scotland, particularly while we enjoy some better weather – although limited indoor meetings are now possible, it is still better to stay outdoors where possible. And in level 2, groups of up to eight people from up to eight households can gather outdoors.

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

I will now turn to other parts of the country. And first let me set out the difficult part of this statement.

There are a number of other local authority areas in addition to Glasgow that are not currently meeting the criteria for level 1, either in case numbers or test positivity.

Indeed, if we looked at just the raw numbers, it could be argued that some of these areas should be in level 3.

However, our judgment – based on the emerging evidence of the impact of vaccines on hospitalisation and our assessment of local factors and public health interventions – 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 these areas – and with a substantial proportion of adults not yet double dosed – it is safer, and more likely to protect our progress overall, if we hold these areas in level 2 for a further period.

In addition to Glasgow, this applies to Edinburgh and Midlothian, Dundee, East Dunbartonshire, Renfrewshire and East Renfrewshire, the three Ayrshires, North and South Lanarkshire and Clackmannanshire and Stirling.

I know this will be disappointing for people in these areas. For these local authority areas, we will be providing support to soft play and other closed sectors that had expected to open, or operate in a different way from 7 June.

Full details will be provided by the Cabinet Secretary for Finance tomorrow. However, it is important to stress that this is a pause, not a step backwards.

And level 2 is not lockdown. It does have an impact on opening hours of pubs and restaurants and the numbers that can attend certain events. But we can still meet with six people from three households indoors and eight people from eight households outdoors.

Hospitality remains open – indoors and outdoors – and so does retail. And taking a cautious approach now – while more people get fully vaccinated – gives us the best chance of staying on the right track overall.

So to everyone in these areas, please continue to be careful. Follow all the important guidance on hygiene, distancing and face coverings. Keep getting tested. And come forward to be vaccinated as soon as you get the opportunity.

In more positive news, there are many parts of mainland Scotland where cases are at very low levels and broadly stable – or where case numbers might appear to be rising, but we are assured that they relate to clusters that are being managed.

So I can confirm that the following areas will move to level 1 also from 1 minute past midnight on Saturday:

Highland, Argyll & Bute, Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire, Moray, Angus, Perth & Kinross, Falkirk, Fife, Inverclyde, East and West Lothian, West Dunbartonshire, Dumfries & Galloway and the Borders.

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

Again, I know these changes will be welcome. But please continue to be careful. It applies to all of us right now that meeting outdoors involves much less risk than meeting indoors.

Finally, Shetland, Orkney, the Western Isles – and a number of small, remote islands – are already in level 1. These communities are continuing to report extremely low numbers of new cases, and in many cases, a higher than average proportion of adults have received both doses of vaccine.

These areas will therefore move to level zero – again from 1 minute past midnight on Saturday.

Full details of what those changes mean, can be found on the Scottish government’s website. But – for example – it means that people can meet indoors in groups of up to four households. Local licensing laws apply to hospitality venues – there is no set nationwide closing time.

And it means 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 would remind anyone travelling to any of the islands to use a lateral flow test before doing so. That way you will minimise the risk of taking the virus to any of these communities.

Presiding Officer, I appreciate that today’s decisions will feel like a mixed bag.

That reflects the fact that we are in a transition phase. The vaccines make the outlook positive, but the new variant means the road ahead is still potentially bumpy.

So caution is necessary. That said, no part of the country is going backwards today. Before the vaccines, that would have been impossible on case numbers like this.

But the vaccines are changing the game. And that means we can still be optimistic about our chances of much more normality over the summer and beyond.

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

My last point – the one I will finish on - is that, as always, all of us have a part to play in beating this virus back.

So please - get tested regularly. Free lateral flow tests are now available through the NHS Inform website. I would encourage everyone to order them and test yourself twice a week.

The lateral flow tests give results in about half an hour – so they are a very useful way to find out if you might have the virus, even if you don’t have symptoms.

Essentially, the more we all get tested, the more cases we find, and the more we break chains of transmission – so getting tested regularly is a way for all of us to contribute to this collective effort.

And secondly, make sure you get vaccinated when you are invited to do so. That includes going for second doses – second doses are vital in providing substantial protection against the virus.

If you can’t make an appointment – and there will often be good reasons why that is the case - then please rearrange it.

If you haven’t received an appointment letter yet and think you should have, go to the vaccinations page of the NHS Inform website to arrange your appointment.

Getting vaccinated is in your own best interests – whatever age you are, it makes it much less likely that you will become badly ill from Covid.

But it’s also part of our wider civic duty to each other. It means that all of us can help suppress the virus and reduce the harm that it causes.

And finally please continue to stick to the rules where you live, and follow all the public health advice. Physical distancing, hand-washing, face coverings – all of this is still really important. These basic precautions will reduce your chances of getting and spreading the virus.

So in summary – get tested regularly, get vaccinated when you are asked, and continue to follow public health guidance.

If we all do that, then – despite a pause for part of the country – we can keep on the right track. And we can all make progress, over the summer, to living much less restricted lives.

Thank you very much – once again – to everyone who is helping with that.