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Lockdown in Scotland will continue until ‘at least’ the end of February, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced on Tuesday.
In an update to the Scottish Parliament, she said the number of cases of Covid-19 in Scotland was still too high and that pressure on the NHS remained severe.
However, she said, progress had been made, with daily cases having more than halved and hospital admissions appearing to have peaked.
The announcement followed a meeting of the Scottish Government cabinet that morning.
The first minister said: ‘The cabinet decided that the current lockdown, including the “stay at home except for essential purposes” requirement, does need to remain in place at least until the end of February.’
In terms of pupils returning to school, she said the Scottish Government would look at the ‘careful and gradual’ return to school from February 22 following the February mid-term break.
She added that dates were still subject to ‘continued progress’ in suppressing the virus and would be confirmed following a review in a fortnight’s time.
It comes as NHS Highland’s Covid-19 vaccination programme continues, with 42,755 first-dose vaccinations having been completed as of January 31.
All care home residents, aside from those homes which currently have a Covid-19 outbreak, have been offered their first vaccination with figures showing a 90 per cent uptake rate.
GPs, who will be vaccinating the majority of the public, have completed nearly 85 per cent of the over 80s group, meeting the target with several days to spare.
NHS Highland’s focus is also on getting all frontline staff their first dose as quickly as possible.
As per national guidance, the second dose will be offered 12 weeks following the first vaccination, with plans already being put in place to allow that to happen.
Dr Paul Davidson, deputy medical director for NHS Highland, explained that this was a massive exercise with the expectation that by today, February 5, 10 times more people would have been vaccinated than in December.
Dr Davidson said: ‘This is a significant exercise. We are delivering the vaccination across a large and challenging geography, during winter, while simultaneously coordinating variable supply of vaccine products.
‘The challenge really cannot be underestimated but it is thanks to all the staff involved with this programme and the tremendous effort they have put in that we have been able to deliver the vaccine to, as it stands now, 13 per cent of our population.
‘Given our remote and rural geography, the majority of the delivery of vaccine to the public will be coordinated by our GP practices, which are ideally located and experienced to do this, given they support our flu delivery programme so well every year. We will, along with Highland and Argyll and Bute councils, provide any additional resources and support that they need to do this successfully.
‘For our staff in more remote and rural areas, the vaccination is being coordinated by local teams. In Inverness, we are currently using the Centre for Health Science as a location for larger scale delivery.’
Dr Davidson explained that one particular challenge was the contact and scheduling of non-NHS frontline staff for vaccination. NHS Highland has a dedicated team in place to support this in the south and mid areas of Highland where the number is largest.
He said: ‘Feedback from colleagues, both those who are vaccinating and those who have been vaccinated, has been positive. We’re also hearing good feedback from those who have been vaccinated by our colleagues in general practice.
‘We know everyone will be keen to get their vaccine as quickly as possible but would ask that you all please be patient.
‘We are working our way through the priority groups and you will be asked to attend for your vaccine by your GP practice when it is time for your vaccine. Please don’t call them, they will contact you directly for your appointment.’
Dr Davidson added: ‘Delivery of the vaccine has been exciting to see but it is important to remember that this is only one part of how we can win this fight against Covid-19.
‘Protection for an individual following vaccination may take weeks to develop and the extent to which vaccination prevents spread of Covid is still unclear. That is why it is so important that, as well as taking up the opportunity to get vaccinated when you are contacted, that we still continue to follow the guidance on how you can keep yourself and others safe.
‘Please follow FACTS: wear a face covering, avoid crowded areas, clean surfaces, keep a two metre distance and, what I would really like to stress, the importance of self-isolating and booking a test if you have symptoms.’