Good afternoon. Thank you very for joining us again today.
I want to start with the usual statistical update on COVID-19 in Scotland.
As at 9 o’clock this morning, there have been 12,924 positive cases confirmed – which is an increase of 215 since yesterday.
A total of 1,587 patients are currently in hospital with either confirmed or suspected COVID-19 - that is a decrease of 45 since yesterday.
A total of 86 people last night were in intensive care with confirmed or suspected COVID-19. And that is a decrease of three since yesterday.
I am also able to confirm today that since 5 March, 2,954 patients who had tested positive and been admitted to hospital for the virus have been able to leave hospital, and I wish all of them well.
Unfortunately though I also have to report that in the last 24 hours, 59 deaths have been registered of patients who had been confirmed through a test as having the virus – and that takes the total number of deaths in Scotland, under that measurement, to 1,762.
As always, let me stress that these numbers are not statistics – or just statistics. They represent real people whose loss is being felt and mourned by many. And I want again to send my deepest condolences to everyone who has lost a loved one to this virus – we are all thinking of you.
I also want to thank again our health and care workers for the extraordinary work that you are doing in these most difficult of circumstances.
And I want to thank all of you watching at home, for the sacrifices you are continuing to make as you follow our very clear advice to stay at home, save lives and help us to continue to protect the NHS.
Now I have one main point that I want to update you on this afternoon.
As I have indicated previously this week, the Scottish Government is legally required to review the regulations giving effect to the lockdown every three weeks, and the latest review falls due today.
Our assessment of the evidence leads me to the conclusion that the lockdown must be extended at this stage. More detail of our analysis will be published alongside today’s daily statistics at 2pm. But let me say this now.
We are - together – making really significant progress in our efforts to get this virus under control. I have reported today a further reduction in the number of patients in intensive care. And yesterday, National Records of Scotland reported the first weekly decline in the number of registered deaths related to the virus since this outbreak began.
All of that gives us real hope and real encouragement.
But we also know that progress remains fragile. Our estimates suggest that there are still significant numbers of people in Scotland infected with this virus.
And we are not yet confident that the all-important R number is comfortably below 1 – and I’ve explained and set out before why it is so important to get it and keep it comfortably below 1. Indeed, we think it could still be hovering around 1 just now - which means that any significant easing up of restrictions at this stage would be very very risky indeed.
Also, we think the R number may still be a bit higher here than it is in other parts of the UK - perhaps reflecting the fact that our first cases came later than England’s and so we may be at a different – and slightly later - stage of the infection curve.
Now, all of that tells me that extreme caution is required, at this critical juncture, to avoid a rapid resurgence of the virus.
Before we can judge that it is safe to begin any significant, albeit gradual, easing of the restrictions, we want to see data in the days ahead that confirms a very clear downward trend.
In particular, I want to see what our estimates of new cases and the R number look like a week from now.
And I will be looking very carefully, as I’m sure all of us will be, to see if next week’s NRS figures show a continued fall in the number of deaths.
And it is to allow for such further careful assessment that we have concluded that the lockdown – and the associated regulations - must remain in place for now.
The legal deadline for the next review of these regulations will be three weeks from now – which is the 28 May.
But I want to be very clear again today that we can make changes to the regulations before then if the evidence suggests it is safe to do so.
And let me say again, I am as anxious as anyone to restore some degree of normality to our lives as soon as possible and to reduce the harms that we know lockdown itself is doing.
It is also open to us to amend the supporting guidance if we think that is possible - and indeed there is one very limited, specific change to the guidance that we are considering already, and I want to come back to that shortly.
But, first of all, I want to address reports that you might have seen in today’s media that the Prime Minister might be planning on Sunday to announce changes to the lockdown in England. I should stress that these are only media reports – I do not know yet how accurate they are.
And before I go any further here, I want to take the opportunity to remind you that none of the decisions I am taking just now – absolutely none of them - are driven by politics. They are driven only by doing what is right to tackle this virus and to save lives. And I believe that is true for all leaders across the UK.
However, I have to be clear with you that the potential changes that are reported in the media today have not yet been discussed with the Scottish Government or, as far as I know, with the other devolved governments.
I hope we will have discussions in the next few days. We had expected a COBRA meeting today or tomorrow but it seems now that it might not take place until Sunday – which of course is the day the Prime Minister is due to make his statement.
However, in the last half hour I understand that the Prime Minister has requested a call with the devolved governments later today, and I very much welcome that.
And if and when those discussions do take place I will make very clear – as I have all along - that it is my preference, if possible, for all four UK nations to make changes, together, at the same pace. Because that certainly helps us give clear, consistent messages to you, the public.
However, for that approach to work, we must agree to make changes only when all four governments are satisfied that they don’t risk a resurgence of the virus.
And – again, let me be clear - if the Prime Minister decides that he wants to move at a faster pace for England than I consider is right for Scotland - that is of course his right. I will respect that and I will not criticise him for doing that.
But I hope you understand, and indeed I hope you agree, that I must make judgments, informed by the evidence, that are right and safe for Scotland.
I will not be pressured into lifting restrictions prematurely, before I am as certain as I can be that we will not be risking a resurgence of infection rates.
Now, of the changes that are floated in the media today, there is only one I may - and I would stress at this stage, may - be prepared to agree to in the immediate future - and that is a change to the guidance limiting outdoor exercise to once a day only.
That is currently, as you know, one of the limited number of reasons that you are permitted to leave home.
As I alluded to earlier in the week, we are already considering whether it would be possible now, without increasing the R number, to permit you to exercise outdoors more often than once a day - but on the strict conditions that you still stay within your own household group, stay two meters away from others, and stay reasonably close to your own home.
It would – and let me stress this point – it would not change the overall message to stay at home except for the limited reasons of exercise, food and medicine.
We will report back on our consideration and indeed any four nation discussion of that over the next few days. In the meantime however, let me be clear that the once a day rule does remain in place.
The other possible changes that are reported in the media today - such as encouraging more people back to work now or opening beer gardens or encouraging more use of public transport - would not, in my judgement, be safe for us to make yet.
And I particularly strongly believe that for us to drop the clear, well understood ‘Stay at Home’ message right now could be a potentially catastrophic mistake.
Now, there’s discussion in many countries about the timing of lockdowns.
All along we have taken the decisions we considered right and at the time we thought right. And that’s what we will continue to do. And of course, none of us have the benefit of hindsight when we make those decisions.
But right now we do have the benefit of foresight. And what I do not want a few weeks from now is for us to see a resurgence of this virus and for you to be asking me this - why on earth did you start to ease lockdown a week, or a couple of weeks, too early?
It’s not an exaggeration to say that the decisions we take now are a matter of life and death. And that is why they weigh so very, very heavily. And it’s why they must be taken with great care. And it is why, as I take them, I will continue to err on the side of caution.
Now I will keep you updated of any and all discussions with the UK governments - other UK governments - over the weekend.
For now though, the advice remains the same as it has been.
It is easier for us to start emerging from lockdown, the lower the R number is, and the fewer infectious cases that there are.
And so for all of us, the way in which we emerge from lockdown that bit more quickly, is to stick with the current restrictions now.
So please, stay at home except for essential purposes such as exercise, or buying food or medicines.
Stay more than two meters from other people when you are out, and do not meet up with people from other households.
Wear a face covering if you are in a shop or on public transport. And isolate completely if you or someone else in your household has symptoms.
I know that these restrictions are very tough – and I also know and worry that any talk of easing the lockdown might make it more tempting to go out that bit more often.
But please, resist that temptation. Stick with the current rules. We must – absolutely must - protect the progress that we have all made together so far. Because it is by doing that that we will continue to slow down the spread of the virus, continue to protect the NHS, and continue to save lives.
Thank you very much indeed for listening. I’m going to hand briefly to the Cabinet Secretary for Health before her, I, and of course the Chief Medical Officer take questions from journalists.
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