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First Minister's stark warning over case rises

By David Porter

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The First Minister gave a lengthy and blunt update to Holyrood today over the continued rise of Covid-19 cases in Scotland.

Addressing MSPs she said: "As members are aware, we still await advice from the JCVI on vaccinating all 12 to 15 year olds and I very much hope the evidence will allow the JCVI to give a positive recommendation very soon, and we stand ready to implement that if it is the case.

"Case levels are 80 per cent higher now than they were last week, and they are five times higher than four weeks ago.

"Test positivity has also risen – from around 5 per cent at the start of August to 11.5 per cent today.

"Now, as we indicated at the time, it was always likely that as restrictions were lifted, we would see cases rise.

"This is a highly infectious virus, so as people mix more together it will take the opportunity to spread. And indeed cases are rising across all of the UK - and in many other countries too.

"In Scotland, though, unlike England and Wales, schools have been back for some time, and we also expected that this would create a further pressure - not just as a result of increased interactions within schools, but also because we know there are certain ways, school drop offs for example, in which adults tend to mix more when schools are back.

"However, despite expecting to see some increase in cases, the scale of the increase in recent weeks has been extremely concerning.

"There is no doubt that this underlines the fact that the Delta variant is significantly more transmissible than previous strains.

"Just as vaccines have changed the game for us in a very good way, Delta has changed it in a very challenging way.

"And that has been very evident to us in the past few weeks.

"I must stress – that the next few days will be crucial in our assessment.

"What is inescapably the case is that we must turn that corner and see the sharp increase in cases level off and then come down.

"Although the link between new cases and serious health harm is now much weaker, it has not been completely broken - either here or anywhere else in the world.

"Many countries are grappling, like us, with the Delta variant.

"On Friday, August 20 there were 312 people in hospital with Covid.

"Today, there are 629.

"The number of people in intensive care has risen more slowly - but it has risen.

"On August 20 it was 34 - today it is 59.

"And of course hospital figures don’t capture all of the health harm caused by Covid.

"So there is a matter of basic arithmetic at play here.

"If the recent surge in cases was to continue – if, for instance, we were to see cases continuing to rise to 10,000 or more a day, something I hope won’t happen, but is by no means impossible – that will have serious consequences.

"A lot of people would fall seriously ill, and obviously some people would die.

"And the NHS will come under even more severe pressure.

"To reiterate, this is a matter of basic arithmetic.

"At the start of the year, daily reported cases peaked at around 2600 and at that time – pre-vaccines - around 13 per cent of cases were ending up in hospital.

"Today, and this is good news - only around 2 to 3 per cent end up in hospital. But of course, 2 to 3 per cent of 10,000 cases a day will cause similar pressure on our NHS as 13 per cent of 2600.

"And this pressure is building at a time when many staff have been working flat out for more than 18 months, and when the NHS is working hard to deal with the backlog of other cases which has been caused by earlier waves of the pandemic.

"So the situation we face just now is fragile and serious.

"We must stem the rise in cases.

"Obviously, it would not be responsible for any government in the face of this virus - and the harm it can still do - to rule out re-introducing any restrictions.

"Indeed, in my view, it would be grossly irresponsible.

"However, we do not want to re-impose restrictions, even in a limited way.

"We know only too well how much harm restrictions themselves cause to businesses, young people’s education, and to our overall wellbeing.

"But if that is to be avoided - as I very much hope it can be - it will take all of us making a conscious and concerted effort again to comply with all the basic mitigations that we know from experience can slow down transmission.

"And of course that applies to both individuals and to businesses.

"Over the past two weeks, Cabinet Secretaries have been engaging closely with business and sectoral organisations across the country to encourage significantly increased compliance with existing baseline measures.

"That of course includes the wearing of face coverings, encouraging stringent hygiene, and support for continued home working where possible.

"I am very grateful to businesses across the country for the efforts being made to keep staff and customers safe. And I am particularly grateful to those businesses who are continuing to support home working.

"It is vital that these efforts continue. "

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