Coronavirus (COVID-19) update: First Minister's speech 8 June 2020

Statement given by the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at a media briefing in St Andrew's House, Edinburgh on Monday 8 June.

Good afternoon.

My update today will be a bit longer than normal as I have important information to convey, including on shielding.

But first I’ll give an update on the key statistics in relation to Covid-19.

As at 9 o’clock this morning, there have been 15,639 positive cases confirmed - an increase of 18 from yesterday.
A total of 1,042 patients are in hospital with confirmed or suspected Covid-19. That represents a total increase of 40 from yesterday, including an increase of 9 in the number of confirmed cases in hospital.

A total of 24 people last night were in intensive care with confirmed or suspected cases of the virus. That is a decrease of 1 since yesterday.

I am also able to confirm today that since 5 March, a total of 3,799 patients who had tested positive and required hospital treatment for the virus have been able to leave hospital.

And in the last 24 hours, 0 deaths were registered of patients confirmed through a test as having Covid-19 –the total number of deaths in Scotland, under that measurement, therefore remains at 2,415.

This is the second day in a row that no deaths have been registered in the preceding 24 hours. This is obviously very encouraging. I can’t tell how much I have longed to report such a development - and I know you will have longed to hear that. 

But even so, we must still exercise caution. We know from previous weeks that fewer deaths tend to be registered at weekends – so it is still highly likely that more Covid deaths will be recorded in the days ahead. But I very much hope we continue to see a steady decline.

As always, I want to stress that the figures I have been reporting over the last few weeks are not simply statistics. They represent individuals whose loss is a source of sorrow to many. My deepest condolences are with everyone who has lost a loved one to this virus.

I also want to express my thanks to our health and care workers for the incredible work that you continue to do in very testing circumstances.

And today I want to convey a special message - from my heart - to everyone watching. I want to take a moment to thank you for the sacrifices you have made in recent weeks.

I know how painful many of these sacrifices have been - not being able to see family, especially grandchildren, or attend funerals of loved ones, or celebrate special occasions.

These are times in our lives that we don’t get back.

And the experience - the worry and the loneliness - of these weeks will live with all of us forever. That is true for everyone - but it is and will continue to be especially so for those in the shielded category who I will address directly in a moment.

I want all of you - shielded or not - to know that I am acutely aware of this in every single decision I take. And there are no words that will ever adequately express the sorrow I feel for all you have gone through - or indeed the gratitude for the way you have borne it.

I also know that as you listen to me report statistics that are now going in a positive direction, you will be asking if these sacrifices remain necessary.

And as you witness some people, even just a minority, not abiding by the rules, I suspect you may be also asking ‘why should I bother?’

I understand all of that. I really do. And I share the frustration at times.

But sticking with it for a bit longer really does matter. These painful but necessary sacrifices have brought us to where we are today - with this virus in retreat.

In retreat, but not gone. And still posing a real risk, especially to the most clinically vulnerable.

And that’s the key point I want to make to you today. This is such a crucial juncture in our battle against the virus. We will either keep going, keep beating it back - or we will give it the chance to roar back with a vengeance.

We must do the former. If we break the chains of transmission even more and drive down the number of new cases to a lower base, the safer it will be to more meaningfully ease the restrictions and speed up our journey back to some normality.

And if we do keep making the progress we have in the last few weeks, I am optimistic that 10 days from now at the next formal review, we will be able to move, at least in part, into the next phase of our routemap out of lockdown, with more individual freedoms restored and more businesses able to open up and operate again.

But that depends on all of us. So please stick with it. Every day we do, brings us closer to getting back to a form of normality. But today I want to thank each and every one of you for all of those sacrifices you have been making.

The main - and difficult - issue I want to talk about today is shielding. I want to give as much of an update as I can for the approximately 180,000 people across Scotland who have been shielding - because we know you are at greatest risk of becoming seriously ill or dying from this virus.

Our initial advice in March was for you to shield until the 18th of June and I know you are anxious about what happens next.

This is not an easy update to give - and I know it will not be an easy one for you to hear - but it is important that we set out for you our current expectations at this stage. You will receive a letter from the Chief Medical Officer shortly with the information I am about to give.

The advice for you to shield has been necessary to protect you from harm – and for now it remains so - but I am well aware that such a long period of isolation causes its own harms and distress.

For all of these reasons we want, as soon as we possibly can, to move to a better position where we can give you more tailored advice on the risks associated with your specific condition – and then set out what you can do to mitigate these risks and how we can support you to live more normally.

However to do that properly and safely, we need more clinical and scientific evidence than we have right now. I will say more about that in a few moments.

For the moment, despite the progress that has been made in reducing levels of Covid in the community, the virus still poses a very significant threat to you.

I am afraid, therefore, that our recommendation at this stage is that you should continue to shield until 31 July.

We are however likely to amend our current guidance so that from next week you can go outside to exercise. I will say more about that shortly.

The support you currently receive will of course still be available. At present, more than 50,000 shielding people receive free weekly grocery boxes, and 46,000 have registered for priority online delivery with supermarkets. That is in addition to the services local pharmacists are providing, and the help given by local authorities and the third sector.  All of those services will continue - and even if you haven’t needed them up until now, you can still access them.

I promise you, and I want to say this very directly and very sincerely to you, I promise you we are not going to forget about you between now and the end of July. During that period, we will consider on an ongoing basis whether further easing is possible. And if we can bring shielding in its current form to an end earlier than the end of July, we will do so. But we judge it is better to give you the clarity of a backstop date now.

And please be assured that we are working hard to provide a more tailored approach for you - so that from the end of July at the latest, you can enjoy more normality in your life.

We know that not every person who is shielding faces exactly the same risk.

So we are working to develop tools that allow you and your clinicians to take into account your specific condition –  and also other factors, like your age or ethnicity – in order to give you a better sense of the risks you face.

As part of that, we are also looking for ways to help you understand the changing risk of infection in your local area.

Once this evidence is available, we will start providing more specific advice for you, so that you can understand the safest ways to go back to a more normal life. We are working on this with clinicians and scientific advisers across the 4 nations of the UK.

It is worth stressing that some of the issues here are complex – and new clinical evidence is becoming available constantly – however we hope to make this more detailed advice available over the next few weeks.

Before then – for the period from 18 June onwards - we have been considering what steps we can safely take. 

We now know that the risk of catching Covid outdoors, if you stay 2 metres apart from other people, is relatively low.

And so we currently expect that from Thursday 18 June, anybody who is shielding, unless they live in a nursing or residential care home, will be able to go outdoors for exercise. There will be no limit to how long or how often you can go out each day. 

We hope that this will provide some boost for your quality of life – particularly if you live in a home which doesn’t have a garden, or which has limited space – without greatly increasing the risks you face.

Assuming that this change goes ahead – and I currently expect that to be the case - you’ll be able to go out for exercise; for example a walk, wheel, run or cycle.

However you should stay two metres away from others while you’re out.

We will not recommend yet that you take part in sports such as golf or tennis.

And you should still avoid meeting up with other households, even in a physically distanced setting. I know that that in particular is really  hard, but we want to avoid the possibility of creating additional risks.

For people who live in nursing or residential care homes – I am afraid that any change to the guidance on exercise from 18 June, will not yet apply to you.  We will change our advice for you as soon as we can confidently do so. 

In relation to education, we have already published guidance to clarify that children who are shielding should not be expected to return until it is safe. Instead, they should be supported to receive education at home or in a way that best meets their needs

And in relation to work, the starting point for everyone – regardless of whether or not you are shielding - should be that you work from home where possible

But if you are shielding, you are not expected to return to a workplace until at least 31 July. And I want to be clear that employers should do everything they can to help you to work from home safely. Nobody should be penalised for following medical guidance.

Before I finish, I want to acknowledge that the support made available to people who are shielding is only possible because different organisations have worked together. That includes national and local government, the 3rd sector, supermarkets and wholesalers, and the NHS. And these services depend on a lot of hard work from a lot of people – for example the staff in local authority assistance centres, delivery drivers, volunteers and many others. I want to say thank you to all of them.

I also know that for anyone who lives with someone who is shielding, this has been a very stressful time. I want to particularly acknowledge the support that you will have been providing, in incredibly difficult circumstances.

And of course most of all, I want to say thank you to those of you who are shielding.

I don’t know, from my own personal experience, just how difficult this has been for you, so I’m not going to pretend to you that I do, but I can imagine how difficult this has been. I know that many of you listening today will be very disappointed that shielding is to continue for some time yet. I want to assure you though that this is not a decision we take lightly - it weighs heavily on all of us, including on me.

But it is for your protection. And I hope that our advice on exercise, should it come into force next week as I expect, will make a difference for many of you.

I also promise that we will ease our guidance again before the end of July  - if we are confident we can do so safely. And I guarantee that in the weeks ahead, you will continue to be absolutely central to our thinking.

I want to conclude just by emphasizing again our key public health guidance for all people outside the shielding group.

You should still be staying home most of the time, and you should still be meeting fewer people than normal.

When you do meet people from another household, you must stay outdoors, and you must stay 2 metres apart from them.

Don’t meet with more than one other household at a time, don’t meet more than one a day - and keep to a maximum of 8 people in a group.

Wash your hands often. Take hand sanitiser if you are out and about.

Wear a face covering when you are in shops or on public transport.

Avoid touching hard surfaces - and clean any you do touch.

And if you have the symptoms of Covid-19 you must get tested, and follow the advice on self-isolation.

Above all else, please remember that the decisions you take as an individual, affect the health and wellbeing of us all.

If we all do the right thing, then we will continue to slow the spread of this virus and we will save lives. And we will bring forward much closer that day when all of us can continue to get back to some normality. So my thanks again to all of you, my thanks in particular to those watching in the shielded category. I know how difficult what I have just reported to you will be, but let me repeat that promise – that we have not and will not forget you.

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