From Monday, you are no longer legally required to wear a face covering in most indoor spaces.
The legal requirement to wear face coverings in most indoor public spaces and on public transport will become guidance next week.
It is strongly recommended that face coverings continue to be worn where appropriate – including in indoor crowded spaces and on public transport – as members of the public are advised to carry on taking sensible precautions to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
Data shows the situation has generally improved but Covid has not gone away with over 5,000 cases a day still being recorded in Scotland.
In a letter to the Presiding Officer and relevant Committee Convenors, Ministers confirmed the remaining legal requirements will be lifted as expected on 18 April.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said:
“In recent weeks we have seen steady progress as we move back to a greater sense of normality and a more sustainable way of managing this virus.
“However our NHS is still under pressure and the most vulnerable members of our society can still benefit from additional measures to protect them from the virus.
“That is why although the use of face coverings will become guidance rather than a legal requirement I strongly recommend members of the public continue wearing face coverings in indoor settings where possible, and particularly when significant numbers of people are present.
“We should also all continue to follow the latest advice on hygiene, ventilation, testing and of course vaccination to protect ourselves and each other.”
It was confirmed earlier this month that people without COVID-19 symptoms will no longer be asked to take regular lateral flow tests from 18 April. The change forms part of the Test and Protect Transition Plan, which sets out how testing will become more targeted, with the aim of reducing serious harm from COVID-19.
The changes to Test and Protect mean that from 18 April:
most people without symptoms will no longer be asked to take COVID-19 tests
free lateral flow devices (LFDs) for the purposes of twice weekly routine testing will no longer be available for the general population given the changing advice, but will continue to be free for any purpose for which testing continues to be advised – for clinical care, for health and social care workers and for people visiting vulnerable individuals in care homes or hospitals
until the end of April, people with symptoms should still isolate and get a PCR test
vaccinated close contacts of someone with COVID-19 should continue to test daily for seven days with LFDs
People who have symptoms of COVID-19 will still be able to book PCR tests in the usual way until 30 April. From that date, test sites will close and people with symptoms will no longer be advised that they need to seek a test. The public health advice for people who feel unwell will be to stay at home until they feel better, to reduce the risk of infecting other people.
Changes are being made to self-isolation rules for close contacts of COVID cases to allow essential staff in critical roles to return to work to maintain lifeline services and critical national infrastructure.
It will be possible to apply to exempt those who work in critical roles where staff shortages are in danger of putting essential services, such as health and social care, transport and the provision of food supplies at risk.
Exemption will only be granted in respect of members of staff who voluntarily agree not to self isolate, and the employers’ duty of care to all their employees must be respected.
Strict conditions will apply – staff must be double-vaccinated and in receipt of their second dose at least two weeks previously. They will also require to have a negative PCR test and to agree to undertake daily lateral flow tests.
Applications may be made via the Scottish Government website.
Exemptions will be made on a temporary basis and last only for as long as there is an immediate risk to business or service continuity.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said:
“It is essential that lifeline services and critical national infrastructure are maintained and we are implementing these changes now – ahead of possible changes to self-isolation rules for close contacts that may apply more generally in future – to ensure staff shortages do not put key services at risk.
“We have seen significant staff shortages in a small number of organisations in recent days and we have worked with them to protect services. Applications for exemptions are being considered from today and we will consider applications as they come in.
“Clinical evidence tells us we can safely and effectively release some critical staff from self-isolation, with appropriate safeguards. However, this is a very limited change at this stage, to be applied on a case by case basis and only where absolutely necessary.
“We will not allow key services to be threatened by staff shortages but equally we must continue to protect public health.”
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon today confirmed that all of Scotland will move to Level 0 Covid -19 restrictions on Monday – however, there would be a number of changes to what had previously been announced.
Scottish Government covid protection levels update
From Monday (19 July) Scotland will move to Level 0, with modifications on previous guidance:
Scotland will move to Level 0 with Main changes new things:
Up to 8 people from 4 households can meet in your home or theirs – and can stay overnight.
Up to 10 people from 4 households can meet in an indoor public place with 1m distance between households.
Up to 15 people from 15 households can meet outdoors in your garden or a public place for informal gathering – distancing not required within the group of 15 outdoors, but different groups need to distance.
You do not need to physically distance from family and friends in a private home.
Customers no longer need to pre-book a two-hour time slot in hospitality venues (unless the venue requests it) but track and trace details must still be collected.
Hospitality venues must close at midnight.
Those arriving from amber list countries will no longer have to isolate on arrival in Scotland, if double vaccinated and return a negative PCR test.
You can travel anywhere in Scotland.
You can travel anywhere in England, Wales, Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man or the Channel Islands – before you travel you must check the travel rules in those countries.
Up to 200 people can attend weddings and funerals.
You should still work from home where possible.
All organized outdoor and indoor sports, personal training, organized exercise and coaching are permitted with safety measures.
Small seated indoor events are permitted with a maximum of 400 people.
Outdoor seated and open space events are advised to operate with a maximum capacity of 2,000 people.
Outdoor grouped standing events are advised to operate with a maximum capacity of 1,000 people.
We still shouldn’t be car sharing with those not in our household.
Make sure you get both doses of your vaccine to reduce the risk of serious illness if you catch COVID-19.
Beyond Level 0 (on track for 9 August), the blanket self-isolation of all close contacts will be removed if double vaccinated and return a negative PCR test.
Advice is being gathered on the removal of self-isolation of young people who are close contacts in education settings. A further update and decision on this will be taken before the return of schools.
The next full review of the protection levels will take place on Tuesday 3 August ahead of the potential move beyond Level 0 from Monday 9 August.
COVID Scotland update: First Minister’s statement – 29 June 2021
Today’s statistics of COVID Scotland have actually just been published on the Scottish Government’s website, given that today’s briefing is a bit later than normal so I am going to quickly summarise these.
COVID Scotland – Three thousand one hundred and eighteen positive cases were reported yesterday which is 11.6% of all of the tests carried out.
COVID Scotland – The total number of confirmed COVID Scotland cases for the duration of the pandemic is now 277,335.
COVID Scotland – As of today 215 people are receiving hospital treatment – that is an increase of 13 since yesterday.
And 20 people are in intensive care, and that is the same number as yesterday.
COVID Scotland – Sadly, one further death has been reported and that takes the total number of deaths registered, under our daily definition to 7,713.
And, as always, my deepest condolences are with everyone who has lost someone as a result of the virus.
Let me also briefly update on the vaccination programme.
As of this morning, 3,781,887 people have received a first.
COVID Scotland: That’s an increase of 16,508 since yesterday.
And 9,420 people got a second dose yesterday, which brings the total number of second doses now to 2,701,195.
Today’s case numbers reinforce the pattern that we have seen over the past week.
There has been a much faster increase in cases than at any time since the start of this year – in fact, over the past 7 days we have reported more than twice as many new cases as we did in the previous week.
In recent days, the numbers of positive cases being reported has also been higher than at any previous point in the pandemic.
It is, however, important to put that into context, and there is two contextual points that I think it is worth me making at this stage.
Firstly, and before I make this one let me be very clear that this is early days and we need to monitor this over the course of coming days.
When we look at cases over the past week by the date the specimen was taken as opposed to the date we report the test result, which are the numbers we report on a daily basis, then what we see is a peak in cases last Tuesday and since then we have seen what appears to be a slowing down of the rate of increase.
So that is encouraging, but again I would stress that it is early days, we will want to monitor this carefully over the days to come and obviously see what that looks like a week form now.
But the second, perhaps more fundamental point of context is that while we are comparing case numbers now to the situation at the start of the year. It is the case that at the start of the year, which was the last time case numbers were anywhere near the numbers they are at just now, we were in much stricter lockdown.
Far, far fewer restrictions are in force now
So the reality now that now without vaccination the level of restrictions that are in place just now would undoubtedly be leading to far higher case numbers than is actually the case.
So that is the first sign that vaccination is actually having an effect.
But the number of new cases now is still a cause for concern – and it is obviously the main issue I want to talk about today.
Before I come on to do that, though, in a bit more detail, l just want to confirm a change that we have indicated this morning in relation to travel.
Because there is no longer a significant difference in case rates between Scotland and the following places, I can confirm that the travel restrictions relating to Manchester, Salford and Bolton are being lifted.
However restrictions will remain in place for now between Scotland and Blackburn with Darwen – where case levels remain higher than in those three other areas. We will undertake a further review of those restrictions, over the course of this week.
Let me return now, though, to the situation here in Scotland.
As we have been saying from the start of this year, we are very much in a race just now between the virus and the vaccines. Our job is to do all we can to make sure the vaccine stays ahead of the virus.
I should be very clear we are confident, very confident that the vaccines will ultimately win this race. The question is what happens between now and then.
If, over the next few weeks, the virus gets ahead, unfortunately we will see more people become ill, we will see more people die and we will see more significantly pressure on our National Health Service than will be the case if we manage to keep the vaccines ahead of the virus
The problem we have got just now is the virus is running faster than it has ever done previously.
COVID Scotland – The Delta variant that we are dealing with just now is – accounts for the overwhelming bulk of all new cases right now – is significantly more transmissible than previous variants.
And that is helping to driving the steep rise in cases that we have been seeing in recent days.
On the other hand, and this is the positive part, we know that the vaccines are breaking the link between cases and serious illness.
The nature of this wave of the virus is different both in nature but also in impact than previous waves.
Let me just illustrate that over the whole pandemic, round about 13% of all cases and 89% of all deaths have been in the over 65 year old age group.
However because virtually all over 65 year olds have now had both doses of vaccine, that is changing, and it is changing really markedly.
According to our most recent figures, those aged 65 or over are now accounting for just 2% of new cases. And what we have seen in recent days is that more than 80% of new cases are in people under the age of 44.
The impact of vaccination is also clear when we look at the data on hospitalisations.
Back in January, more than 10% , perhaps closer to 13 % of people who tested positive for COVID Scotland were being admitted to hospital within 14 days of the positive test.
By the start of June, the start of this month that had fallen to just 3%.
In addition, more of those who are admitted to hospital with COVID Scotland now are being discharged relatively quickly.
Again, that will reflect the fact that most new cases now are in younger age groups.
So in summary, fewer people who get COVID Scotland now need to go to hospital. And a higher proportion of people who do need to go to hospital, are not staying in hospital for as long.
Those two factors are helping, obviously, to cut down the serious illness impact of the virus, but also they are helping to protect the NHS from the full scale of the pressure that case numbers like this would have heaped on it before vaccination – and these factors are also what continues to give us confidence that vaccination is going to get us out of this. And that hasn’t changed.
That is why, notwithstanding this increase in cases that we are seeing just now – and obviously bearing in mind that we have to keep this under review, as we always have done – we do remain hopeful that we will be able to continue lifting restrictions first on the 19 July and then ultimately on the 9 August.
But – and this is an important but – how safely we get there will depend on what we do now.
This is a critical moment – I really can’t stress that enough – and over the next few weeks, it demands renewed care and vigilance from all of us.
COVID Scotland, The virus, as we can see, is still out there – and it is still potentially dangerous.
COVID Scotland Vaccination is very effective – after two doses – but no vaccine gives 100% protection.
And – importantly – while we are vaccinating as quickly as we can, there are still a lot of people who do not yet have the protection of both doses of the vaccine.
That includes many younger people. And while younger people are much less likely to fall seriously ill, they can still be badly affected, including of course from long COVID Scotland.
And finally, while we know that a lower percentage of people with COVID Scotland are ending up in hospital now, the fact is that a lower percentage of a very big number of cases, is still going to be a sizeable number.
So if cases continue to rise as they have been doing, we will see pressure on our NHS in coming weeks – and our worry is that that will set back work that is now being done to recover our NHS and catch up with the COVID Scotland backlogs.
And so my appeal to everyone right now is a serious one.
While we work hard to get to get people vaccinated – and more and more people are being fully vaccinated every days just now, please help us keep the virus at bay by taking care and following all of the vital health advice.
I know, I really do know, everyone is sick of this – and I include myself in that – I also know that many feel frustrated because we might think others are not taking this as seriously as we have been – but the fact is we are so close now, not just at seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, but actually reaching the light at the end of the tunnel.
Having come so far, let’s redouble our efforts, just for a few more weeks, to make sure that we get there and get there as safely as possible.
So there are three key things in particular that each of us really need to do right now to help make sure we get to those milestones, and get to those milestones with as little health impact as we possibly can.
I know that you will have heard this before.
But I’m stressing it again for a reason – with case levels so high, it really is vital that we all play our part in slowing the virus down while the vaccines continue to get ahead and do their work.
So, firstly, please continue to follow the key rules where you live and all of the basic but vital public health advice – for example on physical distancing, hand-washing and face coverings.
Also, meet other people outdoors as much as possible particularly when the weather is a bit nicer – no environment is risk free, but we know that outdoors is relatively safe compared to indoors.
If you are meeting people indoors, please stick to the limits and open the windows to maximise ventilation.
That does apply if you are watching football – or of course now with Wimbledon underway the tennis.
Good luck to Andy Murray for his next match. And good luck to England tonight.
But if you are planning to watch sport indoors with others, please remember that the maximum group size is 6 people, from 3 households. And the 3 households includes your own.
That rule is really important. And if we all stop and think about it, It is obvious why that rule is important, if somebody in your group has COVID Scotland and might not realise it, then if you have got a limited number of people and households in the house with them, then it is reducing the number of households that the virus might be able to spread to
In addition, try to make sure that people from different households are sitting as far apart as is possible. And as I said earlier, keep some windows open because that helps ventilation and the better ventilated a room is, the less risky it is going to be.
The second thing everybody is being asked to do, please get tested regularly – and that is especially important if you are planning to visit somebody. Test before you go. Because you are helping not just to spot if you have the virus, but you are obviously helping to protect those you are going to visit.
Lateral flow tests are available through the NHS inform website.
You can get them sent to you that way in the post. But also now you can collect them from local and regional test sites, and from your local pharmacies.
If you test positive through one of these lateral flow devices – or if you have symptoms of the virus – make sure that you self-isolate, and book a PCR test as quickly as possible, and that’s vitally important.
If you are identified as a close contact of someone with COVID Scotland, you will be asked to self-isolate for 10 days –usually through a text message so that gets to you as quickly as possible.
Self-isolation is really tough. It is probably more frustrating now that there are fewer restrictions in place than it was earlier in the pandemic .
But it remains vitally important to help break chains of transmission.
Thirdly and finally, our key and ultimate weapon against the virus is the vaccine.
So make sure that you do get vaccinated when you are invited to do so. And make sure you attend for both doses.
If you are aged 18 or over, you should definitely have received news of your first appointment by now.
If you haven’t done so – go on to the NHS Inform website, you can self-register. The new portal which allows you to do that opened yesterday.
And that means your up to date details can be submitted and you can get an appointment sent to you as quickly as possible
You should also go to the website if you need to rearrange an appointment, or if you had your first dose of the vaccine 8 weeks or more ago and want to bring your second appointment forward.
I cant stress enough how important it is that all of us get vaccinated with both doses.
It protects you – but it also protects your family, your friends and anyone that you come into contact with.
So please make sure that you get both doses when you get your invitation – I think, part of the collective, civic duty we all owe to each other.
But to be blunt about it, it is also our ticket out of this nightmare. So let’s make sure make full use of it and get out of this as quickly as possible
So these are the three points I want to stress.
Get vaccinated when you are asked, get tested regularly and particularly if you are going to visit somebody or going for an outing somewhere, and continue to follow the public health guidance.
The current surge in cases is a concern – we are seeing it happening elsewhere as the COVID Scotland Delta variants starts to take hold – so I’m not going to pretend it is not a concern.
But I do know that if we all exercise caution and common sense we can make a difference while the vaccine gets ahead. And I remain as confident, possibly even more confident than I have ever been that the vaccine is getting us out of this.
So if we can all can just keep the heed, keep doing all the things we know we need to do so that we can look forward to the vaccine getting us back to normal later this summer.
Nicola Sturgeon has announced a number of changes next week, for wedding and funeral rules to other celebrations.
Aim to lift all major restrictions on 9 August.
The whole of Scotland will move to Level 0 on 19 July if all necessary vaccination and harm reduction measures are met.
Current levels will remain in place for the next three weeks with a review taking place on 13 July although some changes, such as minor relaxations to rules on events such as weddings and funerals will come into place on 28 June.
During a statement to Parliament, Nicola Sturgeon also confirmed that from 19 July physical distancing outdoors will be removed and physical distancing for indoor public areas will reduce to one metre if the data allows. Limits on outdoor gatherings will also be removed on this date, given the reduced risk of outdoor transmission at this stage in the vaccination programme.
If the necessary conditions on vaccination and harm reduction continue to be met, all major remaining COVID restrictions will be lifted on 9 August.
Nicola Sturgeon said:
“From 19 July, and then more substantially, from 9 August – assuming we are meeting our revised strategic aim of alleviating the harm of the virus – life should feel much less restricted for all of us.
“A very significant degree of normality will be restored – for individuals and for businesses. As I said earlier, these are indicative dates, but they allow us to plan ahead with more clarity. As always, we all have a part to play in keeping us on track.
“Up until now, the Scottish Government’s strategic intention has been to ‘suppress the virus to the lowest possible level and keep it there’. From now, our aim will be to ‘suppress the virus to a level consistent with alleviating its harms while we recover and rebuild for a better future’.
“This change reflects the fact that vaccination is reducing – we hope significantly – the harm that the virus causes.
“Physical distancing has been an important mitigation against the virus, but it is also burdensome for individuals and costly for businesses. So as vaccinations bear more of the load of controlling the virus, we need to consider when and to what extent we can reduce the legal requirement for it.
“Ultimately we hope to remove the legal requirement for physical distancing – even though we may continue to advise people to think about safe distancing when interacting with people outside their close contact groups.”
Wedding and funeral rules
From 28 June
suppliers and others employed at a wedding will no longer count towards the cap on attendance
A bride, groom and other designated persons accompanying them no longer require to wear face-coverings when walking down the aisle
live entertainment will be permitted at weddings
more than one household will be permitted to carry the coffin and/or take a cord at a funeral crematoriums and churches can relay funeral services to outside areas
From 19 July
celebrations of life events such as christenings, bar mitzvahs and anniversaries will be permitted to take place under similar guidelines as weddings and funerals
different households will be able to share a bedroom in tourist accommodation
Some measures are expected to continue beyond Level 0 including:
good hand hygiene and surface cleaning
continued promotion of good ventilation
a requirement for face coverings in certain settings (e.g. public transport and retail)
continued compliance with Test and Protect, including self-isolation when necessary
an ongoing need for outbreak management capability, including active surveillance
a greater degree of working from home than pre COVID-19 where this is possible and appropriate based on business and employee choice
The next review of restrictions will be on 13 July ahead of proposed changes commencing on 19 July.
At the outset today, I want to confirm that there will be no changes this week to the Covid levels of protection that currently apply to different parts of the country
I will say more about that later, and also look ahead to the more substantive three weekly review that I will set out to Parliament a week today – which is as scheduled ahead of the 28 June, when the next scheduled change, and a move to level 0 for the whole country, was expected to take place.
Firstly, though, I will give a general summary of the current course of the pandemic, starting with today’s statistics.
The total number of cases that were reported yesterday was 974, which is 5% of the total number of tests. That means the overall number of confirmed cases is now 248,515.
137 people are currently in hospital – which is nine more than the number yesterday. And 17 people are receiving intensive care right now. And that is the same number as reported yesterday.
I also regret to say that two further deaths were reported yesterday.
That takes the total number of deaths registered, under the daily definition, to 7,683.
And once again, I want to send my condolences to everyone who has been bereaved over the course of the pandemic.
I will also provide an update on the vaccination programme.
However, because of a technical issue at Public Health Scotland this morning, I would ask members to note that the figures I am about to give are likely to under-report yesterday’s vaccination performance.
However, on the basis of the information I do have at this stage, I can confirm that as of 7.30 this morning, 3,531,461 people had received their first dose of the vaccine, which is an increase of 13,793 since yesterday.
And in addition, 23,347 people received a second dose yesterday, and that brings the total number of second doses now to 2,470,181. But I would ask people to remember that those figures are likely to under-report the number of vaccinations that were reported yesterday, and we will update that as quickly as possible.
As is clear from the update I’ve just given on the range of statistics, cases do continue to rise. 6,651 new cases have been reported over the course of the past week – that compares to a total of 5,475 in the week before that. So cases have risen by more than one fifth in the last week, and they are now more than five times higher than the situation in early May.
That reflects the fact that the faster transmitting Delta variant is now common across Scotland, and accounts for the overwhelming majority of new cases being reported at that stage.
Now it’s important to point out, given the risk for example of long Covid, we should never be complacent about a rising curve of infections.
However, as I have indicated before, we do hope that vaccination is increasingly protecting people against serious illness. If this is indeed the case, then our experience of this virus will become different, and our ability to cope with it in a less restrictive way much greater.
That is why we continue to very closely monitor the extent to which the rise in new cases is, or is not, leading to a commensurate rise in the number of people who fall seriously ill and require hospital treatment.
Now, our early data on this point is encouraging, and I will say more about that shortly. But we still need further analysis. in particular to more fully understand the impact of the Delta variant.
To that end, a new study published yesterday by Edinburgh University was instructive. And I’d recommend that members read that. On the one hand, it suggests that the Delta variant is associated with a higher risk of hospitalization than other variants. But on the other hand, it suggests that double dose vaccination continues to provide a high level of protection against infection with and hospitalisation from the virus.
This was underlined by another study published yesterday by Public Health England showing extremely strong protection against hospitalisation after two doses of vaccine.
So in short, all of the evidence so far suggests that while it hasn’t yet been completely broken, vaccination is weakening the link between the rise in new cases and a rise in hospitalisations and serious illness.
There is much in these studies about the impact of vaccination for us to be optimistic about.
And as I said earlier, that is reflected in our own hospital data, which of course is published on a daily basis.
The number of people being admitted to hospital with Covid has fallen from around 10% of reported positive cases at the start of the year, to around 5% now.
In addition, since around the start of May, new cases have increased at a much faster rate than hospital admissions.
We are also now seeing some evidence that the people who require hospital care are – on average – younger than during previous stages of the pandemic.
In the latest week for example the highest number of new admissions was seen amongst people in their 30s and 40s. The next highest number was of people in their 20s. Before the vaccination programme started, people over the age of 50 usually made up the highest number of new admissions to hospital.
Now let me stress, we shouldn’t be complacent about hospitalisation for anyone, no matter what age they are.
But the fact that more of the recent hospital admissions are in younger age groups may mean that fewer of the people being admitted to hospital are becoming seriously ill or requiring intensive care. And that may also help to explain my next point.
Hospital occupancy – which is the total number of people with Covid in hospital at any given time – is not rising at the same rate as either hospital admissions or cases of Covid.
Indeed, while there been an approximate fivefold increase in cases since the start of May, hospital occupancy is around just double what it was at the start of May.
What that suggests is that people are being discharged more quickly and spending, on average, less time in hospital than patients were in earlier phases of the pandemic. And again, while that is encouraging, it’s important to stress that further analysis is needed to confirm this.
Which brings me to the judgments we require to make now and next week.
In short, we are hopeful that vaccination is changing the game in our fight against this virus, and perhaps in a very fundamental way. But the emerging evidence still does need close analysis.
And, more fundamentally – and perhaps this is the most fundamental point of all today – we do need more time to get more people vaccinated with both doses. In the race between the virus and vaccines that we’ve spoken about often, we are increasingly confident that vaccines will win that race. But we mustn’t allow the virus to get too far ahead of it.
The vaccination programme is going exceptionally well. It is being rolled out just as quickly as supplies allow. But there is still a significant proportion of the population that isn’t yet fully vaccinated with two doses.
And to be blunt, that remains our biggest vulnerability at this stage, and it is quite a significant vulnerability when cases are rising at the pace they are.
So, we need to buy ourselves sufficient time for the vaccination to get ahead and to stay ahead of the virus. And that is the reason for caution to be exercised at this juncture.
Of course these issues are also being weighed up by the UK Government, and by the other governments across the UK. And of course the UK Government just yesterday announced a four week delay to its plans for lifting Covid restrictions in England.
I have already confirmed today that no changes will be made this week to the levels that apply in any part of the country.
Our next full scheduled review of the protection levels will take place next week. And this will consider whether any changes are possible from 28 June onwards – the date when we had hoped we would see the whole country move down to level 0.
Now, I will confirm our decision to Parliament next week, following that review.
However, given the current situation – and the need to get more people fully vaccinated before we ease up further – it is reasonable I think to indicate now that it is unlikely that any part of the country will move down a level from 28 June.
Instead, it is more likely that we will opt to maintain restrictions for a further three weeks from 28 June and use that time to vaccinate – with both doses – as many more people as possible.
Doing that will give us the best chance, later in July, of getting back on track and restoring the much greater normality that we all crave.
To that end, we will also do three other things next week. And I’ll report on all of this this time next week, when I stand here to give a statement.
If our decision is to retain current levels for a further three weeks – and we have to go through the proper process to arrive at that decision – buut if that is the decision, we will consider whether any minor changes are possible.
I am aware very that as restrictions have eased, perceived anomalies have arisen. And I understand how frustrating those can be, even though there will often be a rational explanation for what might appear to be contradictory.
But I can assure members that as part of our ongoing review of the regulations and rules in place, we will consider whether any changes should or could be made to address such issues.
More fundamentally, though, we will publish two pieces of work next week to coincide with the outcome over the review, that look ahead – hopefully not too far ahead – to the restoration of a much greater degree of normality.
This work will be of interest to everyone – but it will have particular interest for the businesses and sectors – including much of our arts and culture sector for example, that still face the greatest uncertainty about what the future looks like.
So firstly, we will publish a paper setting out what we hope life will look like beyond level 0, as we get to the point where we can lift all – or at least virtually all – of the remaining restrictions.
This is important because while we have had to pause the route-map, we do still – and I want to emphasise this point – we do still hope that vaccination will allow us over this summer to move beyond level 0, and back to a much greater degree of normality.
And secondly, related to the first, we will also publish the outcome of our review of physical distancing. Now given the uncertainties of the current situation – in particular the greater transmissibility of the delta variant – we have taken a bit longer to consider this than we had originally planned.
However, I know how important this is for many businesses, in hospitality certainly, but also for theatres and cinemas and the arts more generally, as they all consider how they can operate sustainably over the medium to long term.
So in summary: next week we will, in all probability – although this has to be confirmed after our full review – pause the further easing of restrictions while we press ahead as fast as possible with vaccination, and in particular with double doses of vaccination.
But we will also look ahead in more detail to what we still hope will be possible later in the summer.
I know the current situation is difficult and frustrating for everyone. We all want to see the back of all restrictions as soon as possible.
However, while this setback is not easy, and it’s not welcome for anyone, it is worth remembering that we are living under far fewer restrictions now than was the case just a few weeks ago.
The current situation is not what any of us want. But equally, the current situation is not lockdown as experienced at earlier stages of the pandemic.
And vaccination is – with every day that passes, quite literally – helping us change the game.
On that point, as well as doing all we can as quickly as we can to fully vaccinate the adult population, we are also making preparations for the possible vaccination of 12-17 year olds, should the advice we get from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation recommend that.
I can tell the chamber that we are also expecting advice from the JCVI in the coming weeks about whether or not booster vaccinations will be needed during this autumn. So plans are also underway to deliver these if necessary.
The Government has an obligation, one we take very seriously, to ensure that the vaccination programme is delivered as quickly and as fully as possible. And I give an assurance that we will continue to work with health boards and others to meet that obligation.
And despite the difficulties of the current situation, it is vaccination that still offers us real hope for the weeks and months ahead.
Getting people vaccinated is, first and foremost, the responsibility of government.
However, it is also one of the ways in which we can all play a part.
So I’ll end by highlighting again the three key things we all need to do to help keep us on the right track overall as we emerge from the pandemic.
The first of these is vaccination. Please make sure that you get vaccinated when you are invited to do so. And please make sure you attend for both doses. All of the evidence tells us that that is absolutely crucial.
If you need to re-arrange an appointment; or if you think you should have had an invitation by now, and you want to check up on that; you can go to the vaccinations section of the NHS Inform website.
If you had your first dose of the vaccine eight weeks or more ago, check on the website to see if you can bring your second dose appointment forward. From next week, health boards will start to routinely second doses to bring them into the eight week cycle, rather than the 12 week cycle.
Getting vaccinated is in our own best interests. It makes it less likely that we’ll become seriously ill from Covid, but it also helps us protect each other. So when it is your turn, please get the jags.
Secondly, please get tested regularly. Free lateral flow tests are available through the NHS inform website so that you can take a test twice a week. You can have them sent to you in the post, or you can collect them from local and regional test sites. And also now, lateral flow devices can be collected from community pharmacies.
So if you haven’t ordered the tests yet, I would strongly encourage you to do so.
The more of us who take tests regularly, the more cases we will find, and the more we can break chains of transmission.
And of course if you test positive, please make sure that you self-isolate, and get the result confirmed through a PCR test. That is important.
If your children are asked to self-isolate by their school, please ensure that they do that. That means staying at home, not just away from school.
I know that that it is hugely frustrating when that happens – and I want to assure parents that as part of our wider work, we are considering whether and to what extent the requirement for young people to isolate can be significantly reduced in future, particularly as we look ahead to a new school term.
But, for now, to anyone who is currently helping a child to self-isolate, thank you. I know it is frustrating and hugely disruptive.
But it also is an important way, at this stage, to help keep schools as safe as possible, and of course to keep as many of them open as we head towards the summer holidays.
And finally, I’d ask everybody to continue to stick to the rules where you live, and follow the public health advice.
This is still important. The virus is still out there, and for all the success of the vaccination programme, it is still resulting in hospitalisation for some people. And of course, Long Covid is still a risk.
So please meet outdoors as much as possible. No environment is ever entirely risk free, but meeting people outdoors we know poses much less risk than meeting indoors.
But if you are meeting people indoors, please stick to the limits and make sure the room is as well ventilated as possible. That obviously includes if you’re meeting indoors to watch the football over the next few weeks.
And please continue to follow advice on distancing, hand-washing and face coverings.
So in summary, we continue to ask everybody to get tested, to get vaccinated when you’re asked to do so, and continue to follow the public health guidance.
If we all do that – it is not easy, it is tiresome for everybody – but if we all do that we will help to get things back under control while the vaccination programme continues to do its work.
And that will help keep ourselves and each other safe. And I hope, really hope that not notwithstanding the current frustrations, it will allow us to move to much greater normality, with far fewer restrictions, as we go further into this summer.