First signs of Covid-19 rate decline are welcomed by the First Minister as further discussion held over vaccinations for 12-15 year olds
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Addressing ministers this afternoon, the First Minister has welcomed the first signs of a slowing this week of case numbers.
She said: "We are still experiencing a surge in cases and indeed a very high level of infection within the population.
"However, the latest data also gives us some early, albeit tentative at this stage, indication that the rate of increase may now be slowing down.
"That can be seen from an analysis of the last three weeks of case numbers.
"In the week to 22 August, based on the date test samples were taken, an average of 3374 new cases per day were recorded.
"In the week to 29 August, that had risen to an average of 5763 cases a day – an increase of more than 70 per cent.
"However, figures for the most recent week, which is up to 5 September, show a daily average of 6304 – an increase of 9 per cent.
"The seven day average test positivity - by specimen date - has also fallen back slightly from a peak of 13.4 per cent on 29 August to 12.7 per cent as at 5 September.
"It is also worth, perhaps, providing a bit more detail about the age breakdown of the latest case figures.
"Over the past week, 75 per cent of all cases have been in those aged under 45, and that is consistent with the broad picture that we have seen throughout this current wave of infection.
"However, further analysis of the under 45s, shows variation between different age bands - and also gives scope for some very cautious optimism.
"For example in the most recent week, the number of cases in the 0 to 14 year old age band has risen by 44 per cent.
"Now, while that is a significant increase, it does represent a significant slowing in the rate of increase from the previous week, when cases in that age group increased by more than 150 per cent..
"Cases in the 25 to 44 year old age band have also continued to rise, but again the rate of increase has slowed quite considerably.
"It was 6% in the most recent week, compared to almost 70 per cent in the week before.
"And amongst 15 to 24 year olds, cases have actually fallen in the most recent week by 18 per cent – from just under 11,000 to just under 9000.
"And that fall of around 18 per cent compares to an increase in that age group of 29 per cent in the previous week.
"So, we can take from all of that it appears that the rate of increase has slowed - and that may well suggest that the appeal to individuals and businesses over the past two weeks to improve compliance with basic mitigations, and for all of us be more cautious in our everyday behaviours, is having some impact."
She continued: "The ongoing work of Test and Protect is also vital - and hugely appreciated.
"I want to take the opportunity now to say a heartfelt thank you to everyone for all of the considerable efforts and sacrifices that continue to be made - but also to issue a strong and equally heartfelt appeal to please keep it up.
"The data I have just reported, showing what seems to be a slowing in the rate of increase in new cases, does give us more cause for cautious optimism than we have had for a few weeks.
"But - and I’m afraid this is always the hard part - cases are still rising, week on week, and they are currently at their highest levels since the start of the pandemic.
"Of course, part of this reflects the significantly higher number of tests being conducted now compared to earlier stages of the pandemic - and indeed compared to other parts of the UK.
"Testing rates per head of population in Scotland recently - for both PCR and LFD tests - have been significantly higher than in England and Wales.
"However, this is reflective of the fact that - since around the time of our schools returning - our levels of infection have also been higher.
"And that is the key, fundamental point.
"The levels of infection across the country - albeit that we may be seeing some potential and very welcome signs of stabilisation now - remain far too high.
"So that’s why we must continue to monitor the situation very closely and be prepared - as any responsible government must be - to take any targeted and proportionate action that we consider necessary to keep the country as safe as possible."
On vaccinations she said: "On Friday, the JCVI updated its analysis on offering vaccination to all 12 to 15 year olds.
"The JCVI has concluded that the health benefit of vaccination for 12 to 15 year olds does marginally outweigh any risks - but because it considers children to be at relatively lower risk of serious health harm from the virus it has decided, at this stage, not to recommend that vaccination is offered all 12 to 15 year olds.
"However - and significantly - the JCVI also acknowledged that it would be appropriate for governments, in coming to a policy decision, to consider any wider benefits of vaccination – for example, whether vaccinating that age group could reduce any further disruption to education.
"Therefore, the four UK governments have asked our Chief Medical Officers to undertake a rapid assessment of the latest evidence and provide advice on wider benefits.
"We expect to receive this advice soon – I hope within days - and the Scottish Government stands ready to act in accordance with any recommendations that we receive.
"Last week, the JCVI also issued advice to the effect that people with certain health conditions that suppressed their immune systems, should now be offered a third dose of vaccine.
"This is because two doses may not be sufficient to enable those with compromised immune systems to mount a full immune response to Covid.
"We are now moving to implement this advice over the next few weeks and we will provide further information to those affected by this advice shortly.
"We still await - and hope to receive it very soon - the JCVI’s final advice on a more general booster programme and, again, we stand ready to implement that as soon as the recommendation is available."
She also confirmed that the government would publish a paper setting out in broad terms how the vaccine certification scheme will operate, and detailing the work being done in consultation with business to finalise the detail and produce sector specific guidance.