Coronavirus in Scotland: Nicola Sturgeon's speech on route map out of lockdown in full

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First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has addressed the Scottish Parliament on Scotland’s route out of lockdown.

Here is her speech in full:

Presiding Officer

I will set out to Parliament details of the updated strategic framework on tackling Covid that the Scottish Government is publishing today.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon attending First Minster's Questions at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh picture: PAFirst Minister Nicola Sturgeon attending First Minster's Questions at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh picture: PA
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon attending First Minster's Questions at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh picture: PA

I will also give an assessment of the current state of the pandemic.

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And I will set out our initial priorities, and an indicative timeframe, for cautiously easing restrictions and restoring greater normality to our lives, just as quickly as it is safe and sustainable to do so.

First, though, a brief summary of the latest statistics.

The total number of positive cases reported yesterday was 655.

This is 4.8% of all tests carried out, and takes the total number of cases to 198,839.

1,076 people are now in hospital – 65 fewer than yesterday.

And 93 people are in intensive care, 6 fewer than yesterday.

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However, I regret to report that in the last 24 hours, a further 56 have been registered.

The total number of deaths, under this measure, is now 7,006.

Once again, I send my condolences to all those who have lost a loved one during this pandemic.

I can also provide an update on vaccinations. As of 8.30 this morning, 1,465,241 people in Scotland have received their first dose of the vaccine.

That is an increase of 19,753 since yesterday.

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It means that almost 1/3 of Scotland’s adult population has now received the first dose of vaccine. That is quite extraordinary progress.

The headline number includes virtually everyone in the top four clinical priority groups identified by the Joint Committee for Vaccination and Immunisation - a milestone that is already saving lives.

We are also well on the way to reaching everyone in group 5 – as of today, 82% of people aged 65 to 69 have had a first jag.

And we are now offering first doses to people in priority group 6.

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Group 6, which includes unpaid carers and people with underlying health conditions, makes up more than 1/5 of Scotland’s adult population.

As we anticipated, the daily rate of vaccination has slowed in the past week, due to a temporary dip in supply, the higher than expected uptake so far, and the need to reserve stock so that second doses can be offered to people who received their first dose in December.

However as supplies pick up again, the rate at which we are offering first doses will accelerate once more.

And indeed if supplies allow, we will now aim to reach key vaccination targets earlier than previously planned.

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Our intention - supplies permitting - is to have offered first doses to everyone on the JCVI priority list by mid April.

This includes everyone over 50 and adults with underlying health conditions, and accounts for more than half of Scotland’s population.

Beyond that - again assuming we receive adequate supply - we will aim to have offered first doses to the entire adult population by the end of July, rather than September as previously anticipated.

Our confidence in our ability to achieve this is a testament to how the vaccination programme has progressed so far. I want once again to thank everybody involved in planning and delivering the programme, and everyone who has come forward to be vaccinated.

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I also want to say a few words directly to people who are on the shielding list – since all of you have now been offered a first dose, and the vast majority of you have had one.

I know some of you are uncertain about whether being vaccinated changes our advice to you. Unfortunately, it doesn’t do that yet.

At the moment, we are advising all of you – whether or not you’ve had your first dose – to keep following the advice the Chief Medical Officer sent in recent letters.

Those letters, and other information, are available at the shielding section of the website.

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The Chief Medical Officer’s advice means that if you are on the shielding list, and you live in part of Scotland which is currently in level 4 lockdown – that of course includes the whole of mainland Scotland – you should not go into work, even if you have had one or both doses of the vaccine.

We will of course update you as and when this advice changes Presiding Officer I mentioned last week that we think that vaccination is already helping to reduce the number of people dying with Covid in our care homes.

Last week’s report from National Records of Scotland provided early evidence for that view.

And yesterday the University of Edinburgh reported the initial results of a survey into Covid hospitalisations.

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It found that by the fourth week after a first dose being administered, the Pfizer and Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines reduced the risk of hospitalisation from Covid by 85% and 94% respectively.

This is extremely welcome and encouraging news.

The early evidence on the impact of vaccination on transmission of the virus - including that published by Public Health England yesterday - is also extremely encouraging.

So while our watchwords at this stage continue to be caution and patience, there is little doubt that we now have much firmer grounds for optimism that vaccination, and the other tools at our disposal offer us a route back to greater normality.

However, it is by being cautious, careful and patient for the next period - while the vaccination programme progresses - that we will make that route as safe and sustainable as possible.

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Taking the brakes off too quickly will allow the virus to get ahead of us again and put our progress out of lockdown into reverse.

I appreciate that this can be a frustrating message - but it is an essential one.

That point is underlined when we consider the current state of the pandemic.

On the one hand, we can take heart from the fact that the lockdown measures adopted after Christmas have had an impact.

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In the first week of January, an average of 300 new cases a week were being recorded, for every 100,000 people in the population.

That figure has fallen by almost 2/3. It is now just above 100. We are also seeing lower test positivity rates, and fewer Covid patients in hospital and intensive care. But, on the other hand, there are some signs that the decline in case numbers is slowing down. Last week, in fact, we recorded hardly any reduction at all.

That is likely linked to the fact that the more transmissible new variant of the virus now accounts for more than 85% of our cases.

And the greater transmissibility of the new variant means it is much harder to suppress.

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And so although the R number is currently below 1, it may not be very far below. And it would likely not take very much easing right now to push it back above 1.

As I said, we are very hopeful that vaccination will have a significant impact on the R number, but that will take more time.

So the bottom line - and this is the clear message from our clinical advisers - is that we have quite limited scope at this stage for easing restrictions.

And of course we have just made one significant relaxation of lockdown.

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Yesterday, children returned to early learning and childcare settings and pupils in primaries 1 to 3 returned to school.

Some secondary school students are also now going back to school for essential practical work.

It is important to see what impact this has on transmission, before we commit to further relaxation.

Presiding Officer – In short, our current position is extremely positive and promising - and we should all take heart from that.

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But it is still quite precarious and if we are to sustain our progress, we do need to exercise care and caution.

If we are to minimise the impacts of Covid, while maximising our ability to live unrestricted lives, we must get the virus to as low a level as possible and try to keep it there.

That’s not some kind of ideological goal. We know from experience that it is when the virus is allowed to simmer at relatively high levels in the community that the risk of it accelerating out of control and causing more illness is most acute.

And it is also when the risk of the virus mutating and new variants emerging - which could undermine our vaccines - is greatest.

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So maximum suppression is important for our chances of getting back to normal.

This is the context in which we are today publishing the updated strategic framework.

The framework has been discussed with business organisations, trade unions, the third sector and others. I know that the other parties took part in discussions at the weekend.

There will be further discussions over the next couple of weeks as we put further flesh on the plans we set out today.

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We intend to publish a further document in mid March giving more detail, beyond that I set out today, on the sequencing of re-opening the economy from late April onwards.

However, today we set out the overall approach to easing restrictions over the next few weeks, with a view to more substantial re-opening from late April onwards.

In considering the framework, it might be helpful to bear this in mind. At the moment, and for a bit longer, we need to rely very heavily on restrictions to suppress the virus. This is essential when the virus is so transmissible, and when case numbers are still quite high.

In time though - once the vast majority of the adult population has received at least one dose of the vaccine - we hope that vaccination will become our main tool for suppressing the virus.

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However, the months between now and then will be a transition – as we gradually rely less and less on restrictions, and more and more on vaccination.

In order to manage that transition successfully – and so that we can start easing restrictions before the full impact of vaccination kicks in – we will need to use a range of other measures too.

For example our test and protect system will continue to be vital, in breaking chains of transmission as they arise.

That is why we are supporting more people to self-isolate when they need to.

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And it’s also why we are expanding testing capacity, so that we can test more people at work – especially in key public services and critical infrastructure roles - and so that we can use targeted community testing, especially in areas where there seems to be a high prevalence of the virus.

Travel restrictions are also essential and are likely to remain so for some time yet.

We saw over the summer how new cases were imported into Scotland, after the virus had almost been eliminated. We do not want that to happen again.

In particular we do not want to import new variants of the virus, which could be more resistant to the vaccines that we are currently using.

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And so the strategic framework rightly emphasises the importance of both travel restrictions and test and protect. They will help us to ease restrictions safely.

Let me turn now to the priorities for and indicative timeframe for easing restrictions. As I have already emphasised the strategic framework is deliberately cautious at this stage but in the coming weeks, if the data allows and positive trends continue, we will seek to accelerate the easing of restrictions.

However, the Framework today provides details on what - as of now – we expect our next changes to be.

Firstly, it confirms that - if all goes according to plan - we will move fully back to a levels system from the last week in April.

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At that stage, we hope that all parts of the country currently in level 4 – will be able to move out of level 4 and back initially to level 3 – possibly with some revision to the content of the levels - and afterwards to levels dependent on incidence and prevalence of the virus at that time.

The advantages of the levels system is that it will allow us to let some parts of the country move faster than others, if the data supports that.

Moving back to the variable levels system at that time will also be contingent on us having vaccinated all JCVI priority groups 1-9 which we hope to have done by mid April.

That matters not only because those groups will be more protected but also because we believe that vaccinating around half of the population will have a significant effect on reducing transmission across society as a whole. And though we don’t yet know exactly how big an effect this will be, we hope it will give us the headroom to carefully ease restrictions.

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It is therefore from the last week of April that we would expect to see phased but significant re-opening of the economy, including non essential retail, hospitality and services like gyms and hairdressers.

And, of course, the more of us who are vaccinated and the more we all stick by the rules now, the faster that safe pace is likely to be – if we all stay in this together, our progress will be greater.

As I said earlier, we will set out more detail in mid March on the indicators that will guide our decisions on levels, as well as on any revision to the content of each level - taking account of our experience and of sectoral views - and the order in which we expect those parts of the economy that have been restricted to start reopening from the last week of April.

However, let me now set out the journey from here to the end of April. We envisage a progressive easing of the current level 4 restrictions that apply across most of Scotland at intervals of at least 3 weeks – along with changes nationally on education and care home visiting – with the immediate priority being the continued return of schools. All of these easing’s will depend on an assessment that it is safe to proceed.

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The first easing started yesterday with the partial return of schools. In addition universities and colleges are able to bring back a small number of students – no more than 5 % of the total - where face to face teaching is critical.

We will also ease restrictions on care home visiting from early March.

The next phase of easing will be a minimum of 3 weeks later, so indicatively from 15 March.

We hope this will include the next phase of school return - which will start with the rest of the primary school years, 4 to 7, and getting more senior phase secondary pupils back in the classroom for at least part of their learning.

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We also hope to restart outdoors non contact group sports for 12 - 17 year olds in this phase.

And we will also aim to increase the limit on outdoor mixing between households to 4 people from a maximum of 2 households - compared to 2 people from 2 households just now.

And then a minimum of 3 weeks after that - so from 5 April - it is our hope that the stay at home restriction will be lifted.

We would aim for any final phase of school return to take place on this date.

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Communal worship will also, we hope, restart around 5 April, albeit with restricted numbers to begin with. However, in deciding the exact date for this, we will also take account of the timing of major religious festivals.

And we will seek to ease the restrictions on outdoor gatherings so that at least 6 people from 2 households can meet together

In this phase, we will also begin the re-opening of retail. This will start with an extension of the definition of essential retail and the removal of restrictions on click-and collect.

And then, 3 weeks after that as I indicated earlier - so from 26 April assuming the data allows it - we will move back to levels, with hopefully all of Scotland moving to level 3, albeit with some possible modifications.

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At that stage, we will begin to re-open the economy and society in the more substantial way that we are all so longing for.

It is important to stress, of course, that all of this depends on us continuing to suppress the virus now - and continuing to accept some trade-offs for a period, for example on international travel. However, if we do so, I am optimistic that we can make good progress in returning more normality to our lives and the economy.

I know this is still a cautious approach which though absolutely essential to control the virus and protect health, is extremely difficult for many businesses.

The Scottish government is committed to continuing support for businesses. For example, provided we receive confirmation of consequentials in the March budget, we will support the strategic framework business fund until at least the end of June.

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We will also ensure that when local authority areas move out of level 4 businesses which are allowed to reopen will continue to receive payments from the fund for at least the next four weeks, as they transition back to trading more normally.

We are also considering some form of tapered support for businesses that may still face trading restrictions and reduced demand, even as they are allowed to re-open.

We will work with business organisations on these and many other issues as we emerge from lockdown.

In addition to the concerns of businesses, I also know that people across the country are anxious for as much clarity as possible.

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I want to give as much as possible today - while avoiding giving false assurance or picking arbitrary dates that have no grounding at this stage in any objective assessment.

I am as confident as I can be that the indicative, staged, timetable that I have set out today - from now until late April when the economy will start to substantially re-open - is a reasonable one.

And in mid March - when we have made further progress on vaccines and have greater understanding of the impact of the initial phase of school return - I hope we can set out then more detail of the further re- opening that will take place over April and May and into a summer when we hope to be living with much greater freedoms than we are today. For now, however, the most important priority we still have is to suppress the virus.

And that means sticking to the current lockdown rules. So please continue to stick to the letter and the spirit of the rules.

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Stay at home except for essential purposes. Do not meet people from other households indoors.

Follow the FACTS advice when you have to go out and about.

Work from home if you can – and if you are an employer, support your employees to work from home.

By doing all of this, we can make it easier for children to return to school more quickly. We can suppress the virus, even as we come out of lockdown. And we can keep each other safe, and protect the NHS, while the vaccination programme does its work.

I know how hard it is after 11 long months of this pandemic. But the restrictions are working. And we can now see our way out of them.

So for the moment, please, continue to stick with it, and stick together.

Stay at Home. Protect the NHS. Save lives.