Nicola Sturgeon Christmas coronavirus statement RECAP: First Minister warns new strain could lead to 'exponential growth' in cases

Live updates on coronavirus in Scotland, the UK, and around the world.

By Gary Flockhart and Katharine Hay
Tuesday, 22nd December 2020, 6:47 am
Updated Tuesday, 22nd December 2020, 3:11 pm

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The latest updates on Covid-19 in Scotland.

Coronavirus in Scotland LIVE: Nicola Sturgeon to update Holyrood on latest Covid developments

Last updated: Tuesday, 22 December, 2020, 14:19

  • 1,316 new Covid cases and 43 further deaths in past 24 hours
  • Scottish level four rules 'may be strengthened'
  • Glasgow Royal Mail office hit by coronavirus outbreak
  • EU calls for reversal of travel ban
  • Nicola Sturgeon appoints new public health minister
  • Talks with France to ease freight curbs ‘ongoing’

Nicola Sturgeon statement LIVE

The Level 4 restrictions will be applied across Scotland for three weeks, Nicola Sturgeon said, but will be reviewed after 14 days.

This will mean hospitality businesses will have to close for all but takeaways, and that non-essential shops will also be forced to shut their doors.

Ms Sturgeon said “given the severity of the situation” the definition of non-essential retail was being applied more widely, so that homeware stores and garden centres will also have to close, apart from click-and-collect services.

While current Level 4 restrictions prevent people from leaving their local council area unless this is essential, Ms Sturgeon said from Saturday the “strong advice” would be for people to “stay as local as possible and at home as much as possible”.

She added: “We will be considering in the days ahead whether we need to place that advice in law.”

Nicola Sturgeon statement LIVE

Nicola Sturgeon said: “The very rapid spread in London and the South East serves as a warning of what we will face here if we do not take firm action to suppress the virus.

“We have a real concern that, without significant counter measures, we could be facing another period of exponential growth as we enter the new year.

“That would mean many more people catching Covid and, even without this new strain causing more severe illness, that would result in many more people needing hospital and intensive care. That would put an enormous strain on the NHS and lead to much more loss of life.

“To be blunt, that is what we have to act now to stop.”

The Scottish Government has already announced all of mainland Scotland will be under the strictest Level 4 restrictions from Boxing Day.

Coronavirus in Scotland: 43 further deaths registered and 1,316 new cases

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Coronavirus in Scotland: 43 further deaths registered and 1,316 new cases

Scotland has recorded 43 deaths of Covid-19 patients and 1,316 new cases of the virus in the past 24 hours, Nicola Sturgeon has said.

Nicola Sturgeon statement LIVE

Speaking about the new, faster spreading variant of Covid-19, Nicola Sturgeon said there was a “significant degree of confidence” among experts that increases the R number – the average number of people infected by each person with the virus – by as much as 0.4.

She added: “Given that the R number in Scotland is already around 1, this is obviously a very real concern.”

The First Minister said analysis suggested that in the week beginning December 9 around 14% of positive  coronavirus cases in Scotland already had a gene linked to this new strain – adding it was “not unreasonable to assume that the proportion may be higher now”.

Ms Sturgeon stressed that this was “still a significantly lower level than England, where it is thought that the new variant accounts for 36% of cases, and will be even higher in London and the South East”.

Nicola Sturgeon says the scale of increase to the R number caused by the new strain is 0.4.

Nicola Sturgeon statement LIVE

Nicola Sturgeon told MSPs that coronavirus was “still circulating in Scotland at a higher level than we would wish”.

She said that the levels system brought in in Scotland had “until now been effective”.

To back this up, the First Minister said: “In late October, Scotland was recording more than 160 new cases of Covid per hundred thousand people every week. Two weeks ago, it had fallen to around 100 and is now around 116 per 100,000.

“That level of incidence is significantly lower than in other parts of the UK – for example, it is around half that of England and around a fifth of the case incidence currently seen in Wales.”

She said: “After a sustained period of decline, our case numbers are now more volatile and have risen by around 15% in the last couple of weeks.

“The numbers of people with Covid who are in hospital and ICU have also risen slightly again after a period of quite marked decline.”

1,316 new Covid cases and 43 further deaths in past 24 hours

Scotland has recorded 43 deaths of coronavirus patients and 1,316 new cases of coronavirus in the past 24 hours, Nicola Sturgeon has said.

Addressing the Scottish Parliament ahead of a review of the coronavirus restriction levels, she said the death toll under this measure – of people who first tested positive for the virus within the previous 28 days – is now 4,326.

The First Minister told MSPs the daily test positivity rate is 7.5%, up from 6% on Monday.

A total of 114,366 people have tested positive in Scotland, up from 113,050 the previous day.

There are 1,045 people in hospital confirmed to have the virus, a fall of 33 in 24 hours.

Of these patients, 60 are in intensive care, down by one.

New variant of Covid-19 has already spread around the UK – scientist

Genomic researchers have found the new and more infectious variant of Covid-19 has already spread around the UK, with cases identified in Wales and Scotland.

The Covid-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK) consortium sampled cases around the UK and found the variant is also in the South West, Midlands and North of England, areas that are under Tier 2 and 3 restrictions.

Jeffrey Barrett, lead Covid-19 statistical geneticist at COG-UK, warned there was a lag in the sequence data being sampled, so the most recent data was from the first week of December when England came out of the second national lockdown.

At a Science Media Centre briefing on Tuesday, he said: “They’re relatively small numbers but I think it is important to be aware that it is certainly not the case that this is just completely geographically constrained to what is the current Tier 4 area.”

Glasgow Royal Mail office hit by coronavirus outbreak as 38 employees test positive

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Glasgow Royal Mail office hit by coronavirus outbreak as 38 employees test positive

A Royal Mail office in Glasgow has been hit by a major Covid-19 outbreak after dozens of employees tested positive.

EU calls for reversal of travel ban

Brussels called for co-ordinated action by the EU’s 27 states in relation to the UK’s coronavirus variant, with travel bans discontinued.

European Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders said: “Given the current uncertainties and in light of the precautionary principle, member states should take co-ordinated action to discourage non-essential travel between the UK and the EU.

“At the same time, blanket travel bans should not prevent thousands of EU and UK citizens from returning to their homes.

“While precautions are needed to contain the spread of the new coronavirus variant, with today’s recommendation, we therefore ensure that the restrictions are co-ordinated and provide for the necessary exemptions for citizens and residents returning home and other essential travellers.”

EU Transport Commissioner Adina Valean said: “Within the EU, it is crucial that transport workers are exempted from any restrictive measures, as quarantine and testing.”

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