Nicola Sturgeon has confirmed Glasgow will remain in Scotland’s second toughest lockdown regime for at least another week, and said the country as a whole may not move down a tier, after Covid cases continued to rise.
The first minister said the latest infection and hospitalisation figures in Greater Glasgow and Clyde showed cases were rising, so it would be unwise to move the city down from tier 3 to 2 this weekend.
Her warning came as the Office for National Statistics said its random sampling around the UK showed a sharp rise in Covid cases in Scotland, with an estimated 8,300 people infected last week. Its swab-testing suggested Scotland’s overall rate could be as high as one in 630 people, compared with about one in 1,960 the previous week.
The ONS stressed the data was an estimate, based on a small number of positives, but it compared with a relatively stable infection rate in England of an estimated one in 1,120. In Northern Ireland, the ONS said the number of people with Covid may have doubled last week, from about 1,200 people to 2,200.
Sturgeon said Glasgow’s case rates had jumped from 112 per 100,000 people last week to 146 per 100,000 on Thursday, with a test positivity rate of about 4%. Yet there were signs a surge in testing and extending vaccinations to younger residents meant the outbreak was subsiding.
“It would be premature to move Glasgow out of tier 3 immediately while the situation remains so fragile. However, if the incidents continue to stabilise and assuming levels of hospitalisations remain reasonably stable, the incident management team said they would support moving to tier 2 at the end of next week,” she said.
She told a media briefing Scotland’s R number – the rate at which cases are increasing or falling – could be as high as 1.3, which showed infections were multiplying. That was driven largely by the growth of cases in Glasgow. At least 50% of cases in Scotland are from the April 2.0 variant from India.
Case numbers had jumped by more than a quarter in the past week, with the 641 cases in the last 24 hours the highest daily figure since 25 March. That meant the Scottish government could decide not to move Scotland as a whole down to tier 1 on 7 June as planned, she said.
Sturgeon said the number of people in Scottish hospitals had risen to 90 overnight, up by seven; the number in intensive care up two to six, and there had been two deaths of people with confirmed infections.
She said nearly 2 million people had had their second doses of the vaccine, and 3.2 million had had their first dose. That gave her “cause for real hope” that vaccinations would greatly reduce the impact and lethality of the virus, which would suppress hospitalisations. That would, in time, allow more relaxing of current lockdown restrictions.
Sturgeon added that she had heard vociferous complaints from business people and opposition leaders about the very short notice previously given before changes to Glasgow’s lockdown level. She said she would announce on Wednesday whether the city would be moving down or remain in tier 3 on Saturday.
Sarah Crofts, from the ONS’s Covid-19 infection survey unit, said: “Today’s figures show that while infections remain low across the UK at around 4% of the levels seen at the start of the year, there are signs of recent increases in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
“We have seen a rise in cases that are not compatible with the UK variant, suggesting that we may be seeing the first signs of variant B.1.617.2 in our data. We will continue to closely monitor infection rates as restrictions ease.”