Coronavirus: Scotland sees first weekly fall in deaths

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The number of people dying with coronavirus in Scotland has fallen for the first time, according to new statistics.

Data from the National Records of Scotland (NRS) showed that the virus was mentioned in 523 death certificates in the week to 3 May.

This was lower than the 656 deaths that were recorded the previous week.

NRS said it was the first weekly reduction in the number of deaths since reporting began on 16 March.

The latest figures bring the total number of people who have died with a confirmed or suspected case of the virus to 2,795.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the fall in the death rate "gives us some hope", but said "our progress, while real, is still too fragile to immediately ease restrictions in any meaningful way".

Of the 523 deaths recorded in the week to 3 May which were linked to the virus, 59% were in care homes, with 37% in hospitals.

However the number of deaths in care homes actually fell slightly, from 339 to 310.

The proportion of all deaths in Scotland which involved coronavirus also fell week on week, from 36% to 31%.

And the number of people being treated for the virus in hospital and in intensive care units has also fallen.

The first fall in weekly deaths is a significant moment, but it was expected because fewer people have been going into hospital and needing intensive care over the past few weeks.

It is more welcome evidence that the spread of the disease in the community has slowed.

However, today's figure also bring into sharp focus the continuing bad news from care homes where this disease keeps claiming lives - so while the overall number of deaths fall, the proportion of deaths in this setting is continuing to rise.

It also helps to make sense of why the first minister is careful to talk about a "plateau" in the curve rather than "past the peak".

We had been warned the numbers wouldn't fall as quickly as they rose, and the number of deaths remains stubbornly high.

We are far from the end of this epidemic

Three-quarters of all Covid-19 deaths in Scotland have been of people aged over 75, with only 19 people under the age of 45 having died.

Greater Glasgow and Clyde continues to record a higher rate of deaths from the virus by population than other parts of the country, while no deaths have been logged in the Western Isles.

The total number of people who have died in Scotland since the outbreak started is 3,752 higher than would normally be expected, based on the average of the last five years.

While the virus accounted for the vast majority of these so-called "excess deaths", there have also been hundreds of extra deaths linked to heart disease, strokes and dementia.

But again, the figure was lower than in previous weeks.

Scotland's Covid-19 deaths. Daily new deaths.  Red: UK lockdown. Pink: New deaths peak at 108..

The statistics from the National Records of Scotland are wider than those reported each day at the Scottish government's briefings, which only cover people who had tested positive for the virus. The total number of deaths under this measurement currently stands at 1,703.

Speaking at the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday, Ms Sturgeon said the country was "at such a critical stage".

"It would not take much to send our progress into reverse," she said. "We need to persevere a bit longer to get that progress solidified."

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image captionAn increasing proportion of Scotland's coronavirus deaths have occurred in care homes

The first minister published a paper of options for easing lockdown on Tuesday, and said her government would look to do this "as soon as possible".

However she said that "for the moment, the message remains clear - please stay at home except for essential purposes".

The government paper said the infection rate - the "R number" - was "much too high at present to consider the virus under control".

It said there is "some evidence" that the infection rate in Scotland is "slightly above that elsewhere in the UK", and that "we must continue to proceed with extreme caution".

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he will sett out plans to begin lifting the coronavirus lockdown on Sunday, and that he hoped to "get going on some of these measures on Monday".

And Scottish Conservative leader Jackson Carlaw urged Ms Sturgeon to ensure there continued to be a "consistent message" across the UK rather than following a different approach in Scotland.

Mr Carlaw said that "simplicity saves lives", and told Ms Sturgeon: "This isn't about politics, first minister, it is about keeping things clear."

Meanwhile, Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard said the high number of deaths that were still being reported in care homes showed that the Scottish government had failed to protect the most vulnerable during the pandemic.

He accused the government of being "far too slow to act", adding: "Even now concerns persist over PPE availability and the level of testing in care homes"

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