Covid in Scotland: Deaths falling as vaccine 'having an effect'

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The vaccination campaign is starting to reduce the Covid death toll in Scotland, the country's first minister has said.

Nicola Sturgeon said that there was now "hard evidence" that the vaccinations were having a positive impact.

The number of deaths has fallen for three consecutive weeks, with deaths in care homes reducing by 62% in that time.

Deaths at home have fallen by 29% and in hospitals by 11%.

Older residents in care homes were treated as the top priority when the vaccination programme rollout began.

The first minister told MSPs that with the exception of one week in August - when only two deaths were registered - care homes accounted for a smaller proportion of overall Covid deaths last week than at any time since March last year.

Ms Sturgeon went on to say that a breakdown of deaths by age showed a 45% drop over the past three weeks among the over-85 age group, according to National Records of Scotland (NRS) figures.

People aged over 80 living in the community had been the next priority of the vaccination programme, after care home residents.

The first minister said the latest NRS report contained the "first hard evidence of the positive impact of vaccination".

She added: "It is reasonable to take some heart from this because it strongly suggests the vaccine programme is having the hoped for effect of reducing the death toll from the virus."

Ms Sturgeon was speaking at first minister's questions, which saw heated exchanges with opposition leaders over an Audit Scotland report that found the Scottish government had not been adequately prepared for the Covid-19 pandemic.

The watchdog found that not all of the actions identified during pandemic planning exercises between 2015 and 2018 had been implemented.

These included measures to ensure access to enough personal protective equipment (PPE) and to quickly address social care capacity.

Opposition parties said the failure to heed warnings and prepare better had cost lives, and claimed that either "negligence or incompetence" was to blame.

Ms Sturgeon said there were "lots of lessons to learn" from the report, but insisted that "the steps we have taken are the right ones".

It comes as the latest NRS statistics showed that more than 80% of deaths over the most recent week occurred in hospital (266), while 42 were in care homes and 15 at home or in non-institutional settings.

The figures also showed that in the most recent week, February 8 to 14, deaths of those aged 85 and over were lower than those aged 75 to 84 for the first time since November.

The deaths of a further 64 people who had tested positive for the virus in the previous 28 days were recorded on Tuesday - bringing the total by that measure to 6,828

A further 1,121 cases of Covid were identified through testing in the last 24 hours, and the daily test positivity rate was 5.2% - down from 6% the previous day.

There were 1,317 people in hospital confirmed to have the virus, down 66 from the previous day, and 99 patients were in intensive care - a reduction of one.

A further 32,070 people were given their first dose of the vaccine on Tuesday - about half of the number from the same day last week - bringing the total to 1,320,074.

The Scottish government had previously warned that the vaccination programme would slow down in the middle of this month because of supply problems with the Pfizer vaccine.

After complaints from opposition politicians that the Scottish programme was lagging behind the other UK nations, it had been speeding up the number of first doses over the past fortnight.

But the country has given a second dose of the vaccine to a much lower percentage of its population a than England has.

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