Past the peak
At a press conference on Wednesday evening, Chris Whitty confirmed that Britain was now past the peak of the current wave of the pandemic. Positive cases of the virus have fallen by 29% in the past week in England, with further decreases in daily Covid-19 cases in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland too. Nevertheless, both the Prime Minister and the Chief Medical Officer warned that it was still too early to ease restrictions. Even when the government hits its February 15th target of vaccinating all of the most vulnerable people in the UK (which it looks set to do), Whitty said that only a small proportion of the pressure on the NHS will be alleviated, although a “high proportion” of deaths would be stopped. The number of people being treated for the virus in the NHS and daily cases should continue to fall in the coming weeks, as will the daily deaths recorded, albeit a little more slowly.
Ten million vaccinated...
On Wednesday, Britain passed the 10 million vaccinations administered mark with 10,021,471 people having received their first dose and a total of 498,962 having received a second dose. In England 90.1% of care home residents have received their first dose of the vaccine, with 98% of care home residents in Scotland also having received theirs. Having recorded the lowest daily vaccination figure on Sunday since vaccinations began, the vaccine rollout in Scotland was boosted by the opening of several mass vaccination centres this week. Yesterday, Scotland recorded more than 45,000 people receiving their first dose of the vaccine. The continued success and pace of the vaccine roll out has raised hopes that all adults could receive a first dose of the vaccine by the summer - earlier than originally expected. The government won’t thus far be drawn on a definite date for both the possible easing of restrictions and by when all adults can expect to have received a first dose. Johnson has confirmed that when restrictions are eventually eased, they will be done so on a national basis rather than using the previous regional tiered system. The Prime Minister also confirmed that he will outline a roadmap for the unlocking of lockdown on the 22 February.
North of the border in Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon confirmed on Tuesday that the 22nd February would mark the beginning of the staggered return to school for pupils. Initially only pre-school and years one to three will return on a full-time basis, with those secondary school pupils that need access to classrooms to complete practical work for national qualifications returning on a part-time basis. On the 16th February the First Minister will outline to the Scottish Parliament the plan for getting other school years back into the classroom. Her announcement comes as daily case figures in Scotland continue to fall. Yesterday, figures showed that 4.9% of tests carried out in Scotland were positive - the lowest rate for more than a month.
In another significant development north of the border this week, Nicola Sturgeon has decided that current UK border rules “don’t go far enough”. Currently the government in Whitehall plans to force travellers coming into the UK from 30 ‘high-risk’ countries to quarantine in hotels for 10 days. Sturgeon has gone further and has announced that the Scottish government will shortly outline plans to make all travellers coming into Scotland quarantine in hotels for 10 days. Neither Sturgeon nor Johnson have yet outlined how their plans will work and when they can be expected to begin. Johnson has so far resisted calls by Labour to follow Sturgeon’s lead and introduce hotel quarantining for all travellers coming into the UK, but the opposition will continue to call for increased border measures in England. Sturgeon will also continue to heap pressure onto Johnson to go further at English borders, as under the current plans hotel quarantining in Scotland could be circumvented by flying into England and then travelling north to Scotland.