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

Good afternoon, welcome to today’s update, as usual I will start off with the daily statistics.

The total number of positive cases reported yesterday was 897.

That is 4.6% of the total number of tests that were carried out yesterday and the total number of confirmed cases now is 102,372.

225 of today’s cases are in Greater Glasgow and Clyde, 150 in Lothian, and 147 in Lanarkshire.

The remaining cases are spread across the other 8 mainland health board areas.

I can also report than 972 people are currently in hospital – which is a decrease of 11 from yesterday and 50 people are in intensive care, which is seven fewer than the figure yesterday.

Finally I have to report, unfortunately, that 39 additional deaths have been registered in the past 24 hours of patients who first tested positive over the past 28 days and that takes the total number of deaths, under this daily measurement, to 3,989.

However, National Records of Scotland has just published its weekly update, which you will recall includes cases where COVID hasn’t been confirmed through a test, but is a suspected or contributory cause of someone’s death.

Today’s update shows that by Sunday just past, the total number of registered deaths linked to COVID – under that wider definition – was 5,868.

232 of those were deaths registered over the course of the last week, that’s 20 fewer than were registered in the previous week.

145 of the deaths that occurred last week were in hospital, 78 in care homes, and 9 at home or in another non-institutional setting.

Every single one of those deaths of course has, and for families the length and breadth of the country, will still be, causing heartbreak.

And so yet again, I want to send my condolences to everyone who has lost a loved one during this pandemic.

Now I have a number of issues that I want to, reasonably briefly, update you on today.

Firstly, I want to take this opportunity to express my heartfelt thanks to everyone who got our COVID vaccination programme off to such a strong start yesterday.

Obviously the medical professionals who were giving or receiving the vaccine, but also everyone who worked so hard to get us to that point, and that of course includes the scientists, the delivery drivers, the admin staff making the appointments, the civil servants in this building, who have all been working hard to get us to this major milestone in our journey through COVID.

The vaccination programme is a major, enormous, undertaking and we know there are challenges that still lie ahead in it but it was hugely encouraging and I would go as far as to say, and I am sure I not alone here in saying this, it was actually inspiring to see it get underway yesterday.

Tomorrow, when I give the daily update, which I will do in Parliament tomorrow, I’ll give provisional figures on the numbers of people who received the vaccine yesterday or who will have received it over the course of today.

Now one final point on the vaccination programme. There may well be questions today on the advice that has been issued this morning from the MHRA, the UK medicines regulator, that anyone with a significant history of allergic reactions should not get this vaccine and if there are questions on that topic the National Clinical Director will respond to those.

The second issue I want to raise is just to note that the Health Secretary will later today launch the Scottish Government’s Cancer Recovery Plan.

That plan sets out how we will further improve cancer diagnosis and care – for example by helping patients to prepare in advance of cancer treatment, and by establishing two specialist diagnostic centres to provide better support for patients.

It is an important part of our overall efforts to ensure that wider NHS services are resuming – and continue to improve as we go through the next stages of this pandemic and start to recover, hopefully, from it.

Now there are three other issues that I want to touch on briefly,  and they relate to three different publications  today, which may be of interest.

The first is a report on COVID outbreaks amongst our student population, and the report shows that between the 1st of August and the end of November, there were almost 3,000 COVID cases that were associated with what are called student postcodes – in other words, postcodes for halls of residence, and other accommodation intended specifically for students.

Almost two thirds of the cases occurred in a three week period in late September and early October.

And overall, more than three quarters of the cases were in Edinburgh and Glasgow. In fact, a high proportion – around a quarter – were specifically in Pollock Halls in Edinburgh, and the Murano Halls in Glasgow.

The research as well as reporting on these figures, also sets out lessons for the next semester and many of these relate to measures which were set out to Parliament yesterday by the Deputy First Minister – such as increased use of testing, staggered arrival times for students, and students reducing their social contacts both before and after travelling.

The report is a reminder – if any of us needed it though – of how hard all of us need to work to reduce the risk of the virus spreading in shared accommodation, and I continue to be grateful to all students who are having their education disrupted in ways that are not fair to them but unfortunately inevitable during a global pandemic. But I am also grateful to universities and colleges for the efforts that everyone has made to help us curb transmission during this very difficult period. The evidence being published today suggests that those efforts have made a real difference in the past two months and I am very grateful for them.

The second report is the weekly Public Health Scotland update which should just have been published before we came in to do this briefing.

This week’s publication is directly relevant to the issue I’ve just been talking about actually, since for the first time, it provides details on the testing of asymptomatic students.

It sets out that in the week from the 30th of November, 22,000 tests on students were carried out, using lateral flow devices.

It is worth reminding you of course that because we are encouraging students to get tested twice, that does not equate to 22,000 students being tested in that week. But nevertheless that is a promising figure and shows strong uptake of the testing on offer to students.

Lateral flow devices, as you have heard us discuss here before, are useful because they provide results extremely quickly. But they are less sensitive than standard PCR testing.

And that is actually one of the reasons why we recommend that students have two tests a few days apart, and it is also why we recommend that any positive results through lateral flow devices are then confirmed by a PCR test.

Details of the number of positive test results amongst the students being tested will be published next week – but the numbers are currently thought to be relatively low. And today’s report does demonstrate that lateral flow testing has been widely taken up by students.

So again I am grateful to  students who have taken tests. They are helping to keep themselves and their loved ones safe during the forthcoming holiday period.

Now today’s Public Health Scotland report also provides some initial details about six of the locations in west and central Scotland, where mass community testing has been trialled during the past fortnight.

And it shows that across those six locations, 13,000 tests were carried out up to the 7th of December.

Most of these were PCR tests, rather than lateral flow tests and in total, community testing has so far identified 426 positive test samples across these six centres. That equates to a test positivity rate of around 3%.

Community testing enables people to get tested even if they have no symptoms of COVID. And so the tests over the past week have identified positive cases that might well not have been identified otherwise.

Those people have of course been told to self-isolate, and have spoken to contact tracers – and that then is helping to break the chains of transmission from positive cases that might otherwise have gone undetected.

This pilot programme is showing us that that community testing can play a part in controlling COVID – especially in areas with high levels of community transmission. And we will take the learning from these pilots and use that to inform a much wider use of mass testing as we go into the new year.

Now bear with me, the final reports I want to highlight today are ones that have been submitted to the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, or SAGE, as you are used to hearing it described.

These reports have used genomic sequencing to look at how many different strains of COVID have been in circulation during the pandemic, and where they might have come from. One of the report focuses on Wales, and the other one focuses on Scotland.

Professor Leitch is going to say more about them, but they provide really important lessons for everyone trying to manage the virus in Scotland and across the UK.

In particular, the report on Scotland  – in looking at what has contributed to this second wave of the virus in Scotland – emphasises the role of travel, in reigniting outbreaks of the virus after it has been suppressed.

The risk created by travel, of course, is the reason why we are currently recommending against non-essential travel outside Scotland and that is a very important part of helping to control the virus.

And it is also of course why, within Scotland, we have travel restrictions in place concerning travel to and from level 3 and 4 areas. That is a vital part of tackling the virus and trying to keep it contained rather than allowing it to spread across the country.

Now the only other point I want to highlight today, and I want to end on this note, is that tomorrow sees the start of Hanukkah, which of course is a time of celebration for our Jewish communities.

Ordinarily it would see people come together in each other’s homes, or in large gatherings.

And, obviously, that is not possible this year.

So I want take this opportunity to give a very heartfelt thank you to everyone in our Jewish communities for celebrating Hanukkah this year in a way that will protect themselves the wider community, and the NHS.

I very much hope you still manage to have a very special time. And please know that over these next few days you will be very much in my thoughts – and I am sure the thoughts of many people across Scotland. And I wanted to give that particular message to our Jewish communities today.

These are the key issues I wanted to comment on today.

I know there was some, a lot of, detail and a lot of figures in that but these are all important reports in terms of our learning about this virus and will individually and collectively, we hope, help us to manage the remainder of this pandemic in a more effective way.

Before I finish, let me just remind everybody of the rules.

Obviously yesterday we gave the results of our weekly review of the allocation of levels and from Friday, 16 local authorities are going to move down a level of protection. That makes it more important, particularly in these areas, that everybody follow the rules that are in place.

This often seems like a counter-intuitive point to make but as we ease restrictions it becomes more important to abide by the restrictions in place, not less, because by easing restrictions we are giving the virus more opportunities to spread so we have all got to be even more on our guard.

If you are in any doubt about what the rules are, in your area, the Scottish Government website has a post code checker and you can use that to find out.

But with the very specific exception of some island communities,  please don’t visit other people’s homes right now, that is really hard but is the most effective way of limiting transmission.

The only reasons for visiting other people’s homes right now should be for essential purposes – childcare, or looking after a vulnerable person. If you are meeting outdoors or in an indoor public place stick to the limit of six people, from a maximum of two households.

As I’ve said, stick to the travel restrictions, don’t car share.

If at all possible work from home if you can.

Download the Protect Scotland app, and as I said yesterday but it is worth repeating: from next week, everybody over the age of 11 in Scotland will be able to download the app, up until now it’s only been people 16 and over, so that is an important development.

And finally, remember FACTS:

  • remember to wear your face coverings
  • avoid crowded places
  • clean your hands and surfaces
  • keep a two metre distance from people from other households
  • and self-isolate, and get tested if you have any of the symptoms.

Thanks very much for listening to what was quite a lengthy update today, I am now going to handover to Professor Leitch who will say a little bit more about the genomic sequencing and touch on a  couple of other issues before we take questions as usual.

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