Good afternoon. Thanks for joining us for today’s briefing.
I want to start – as I always do – by updating you on some of the key statistics in relation to Covid-19 in Scotland.
As at 9 o’clock this morning, there have been 13,486 positive cases confirmed - an increase of 181 from yesterday.
A total of 1,484 patients are currently in hospital with confirmed or suspected Covid-19 – that is a decrease of 101 from yesterday.
A total of 82 people last night were in intensive care with confirmed or suspected cases of the virus. That is a decrease of seven since yesterday.
I am also able to confirm today that since 5 March, a total of 3,100 patients who had tested positive and been hospitalised for the virus have been able to leave hospital. I wish all of them well.
Unfortunately I also have to report that in the last 24 hours, 10 deaths have been registered of patients who had been confirmed through a test as having the virus – that takes the total number of deaths in Scotland, under that measurement, to 1,857.
These figures should be treated with some caution. Although deaths can now be registered at weekends, registration of numbers over weekends are usually lower than they are during the week. This should be taken into account when considering today’s figures.
As always, I want to stress that these numbers are not simply statistics. They represent individuals whose loss is being felt and mourned by many. As always, I send my deepest condolences to everyone who has lost a loved one to this virus. We are all thinking of you at this time.
I also want to thank, as I always do, our health and care workers. You are continuing to do extraordinary work in very challenging circumstances. There is not a day that passes that I don’t feel a deep debt of gratitude to you.
I have one issue that I want to talk about today and it relates to lockdown.
Let me emphasise at the outset that the lockdown in Scotland remains in place.
As I have set out before, the rate of transmission of the virus in Scotland – the R number you are used to hearing about – is still too high for any significant change to be safe at this stage. Indeed, the R number may, as I said earlier in the week, be slightly higher here than in other parts of the UK at this point.
That means we must be very cautious and very careful about where we proceed to from here. Having made real progress in recent weeks and I think you can tell from the figures that I am setting out day after day that we have made real progress. The objective now for all of us must be to consolidate and solidify that progress – we must not squander our progress by easing up too soon or by sending mixed messages that result in people thinking it’s ok to ease up now.
Let me be very blunt about the consequences if we were do that – people will die unnecessarily and, instead of being able to loosen restrictions hopefully in the near future, we will be faced instead with having to tighten them.
We must not take that risk.
For that reason, my basic message for Scotland remains the same as it has been – please stay at home, except for essential purposes.
I have made clear, however, that the Scottish Government will keep what constitutes an ‘essential purpose’ under review, and I told you last week that we were considering making one immediate change – a change to the guidance relating to exercise.
I can confirm that the Scottish Cabinet met earlier this afternoon and agreed a change to that guidance.
At present, you are only permitted to leave home to exercise once a day. From tomorrow, that once-a-day limit will be removed.
So if you want to go for a walk more often - or to go for a run and also a walk later on in the day – then you can do so.
It is important to stress this new advice does not apply if you or someone in your household has symptoms of the virus, or if you received a letter explaining that you are in the shielded group. In those cases, the advice is still to stay at home completely and not go out at all.
And for everybody, all other lockdown restrictions remain in place.
When you are exercising, you must stay relatively close to your own home and at all times at least two metres away from people from other households. And although the rules permit exercise – such as walking, running or cycling – they do not yet extend to outdoor leisure activities such as sunbathing, picnics or barbecues.
The fact that you are allowed to exercise more than once is definitely not – and I want to stress this point – a licence to start meeting up in groups at the park or the beach. Doing that really does risk spreading the virus, and could potentially force us to reintroduce stricter guidelines or toughen up the regulations and penalties in future.
What we are confirming today is instead a small but important change, to one part of the lockdown requirements.
We believe that it will bring benefits to health and wellbeing – particularly for people who live in flats and don’t have access to private gardens, and for children, who I know will have found the once a day limit particularly difficult. The most important point is this – it will bring those benefits without, in our judgement, having a major impact on the spread of the virus.
However – and this is really important – the other basic principles and rules of lockdown remain for now the same. Unless you are doing exercise, or performing another essential task such as buying food or medicine, you should stay at home.
And you should not meet up with people from other households – because that is how we give the virus a chance to spread, giving it bridges it can travel over and lead to increased spread.
The change I have confirmed today is the only change the Scottish Government judges that it is safe to make right now, without risking a rapid resurgence of the virus.
We do not, at this point, want to see more businesses opening up – or more people going to work. Our guidance to business remains the same as it has been.
And we are not yet changing who can or should be at school.
You may hear the Prime Minister announce other immediate changes tonight for England – and that is absolutely his right to do so. I’ve just come from a Cobra meeting with the Prime Minister and the First Ministers of Wales and Northern Ireland. Now it’s important to say that I don’t expect the detail of these immediate changes that the Prime Minister will announce to be significant and I predict that any differences with the position here in Scotland will be relatively minor.
However, for the avoidance of doubt, let me be clear – except for the one change I have confirmed today, the rules here have not changed. We remain in lockdown for now and my ask of you remains to Stay at Home.
However, we will continue to monitor the evidence closely and make further changes as soon as we consider it safe to do so.
In the interests of openness and transparency and the grown up conversation I keep talking about that I want to have, I want to give you as much visibility of that as I’m going to share with you now that over this coming week – as we hopefully see more evidence of a downward trend in the virus - we will assess further whether it is possible to further extend the range of permissible outdoor activities that you can do on your own or at a safe distance.
We will also consider over the coming days whether garden centres can re-open; and we will think about whether some additional forms of outdoor work – particularly where people work on their own or at a distance – can safely resume. We will also be looking urgently – in close discussion with councils – at the possibility of reopening waste and recycling centres.
I will update you on these further issues next weekend.
Beyond that we will continue to consider when and how more businesses can safely start to re-open, what changes will be required to public transport, and when and how children can start returning to school.
On that latter point, though, I do not expect that schools in Scotland will start to return as early as 1 June.
As well as announcing immediate changes, I understand that the Prime Minister will also tonight set out a longer term plan for England.
The Scottish Government has not yet seen the detail of this plan, so it is not possible for us to simply adopt it for Scotland – and indeed the evidence may well tell us that moving at exactly the same pace is not appropriate.
We will consider it carefully and we will take our own expert advice on it. And as soon as possible we will set out our own view on the phasing of a more substantial lifting of the lockdown.
We are already working with businesses to produce guidance specific to the needs of industry, workers and public health in Scotland. We will publish that guidance, sector by sector, in the coming days and weeks – our early priority is to give guidance and visibility to the construction, manufacturing and retail sectors.
Lastly, in areas which are the responsibility of the UK Government in Scotland, we will make sure that our views and concerns are known. For example – we expect confirmation tonight of a period of quarantine for people travelling into the UK. I have made it clear that I believe this is vital to our efforts to contain the virus in the period ahead, and I would encourage the UK Government to introduce it as soon as possible.
Lastly, let me say something about co-operation between the four nations of the UK.
I remain committed to the closest possible co-operation, collaboration and alignment. And, let me stress again, I have no interest in politics when it comes to tackling this virus.
It is perfectly consistent with an overall four nations approach to have a pragmatic acceptance that we may move at different speeds if the evidence tells us that is necessary – and I believe we do now have that acceptance.
But genuine consultation and alignment of messages – even, perhaps especially, when the evidence is putting us on slightly different timelines – remains really important.
We should not be reading of each other’s plans for the first time in newspapers.
And decisions that are being taken for one nation only – for good evidence based reasons – should not be presented as if they apply UK wide.
Clarity of message is paramount if we expect all of you to know exactly what it is we are asking of you. As leaders, we have a duty to deliver that clarity to those who we are accountable to, not confuse it.
To that end, I have asked the UK Government not to deploy their ‘Stay Alert’ advertising campaign in Scotland. Because the message in Scotland at this stage is not stay at home if you can, the message is, except for the essential reasons you know about, stay at home full stop.
Fundamentally, we all have a responsibility – and it is a heavy one for all of us – to make decisions and set policies for based on our own data of what is safe and what is not.
I am clear that for Scotland, at this present moment, relaxing too many restrictions too quickly creates the risk that the virus will take off again. I am not prepared to take that risk.
That is why – except for the fact that from tomorrow you can go out to exercise more than once a day – the current lockdown restrictions remain in place.
I very much hope that it will be possible to lift more of them in the days and weeks ahead – and we are making plans for that – but at the moment, the risks are still too great.
For all of us, in fact, the way in which we can emerge from lockdown that bit more quickly, is to stick with the current restrictions now.
It is easier for us to start leaving lockdown, the lower the R number is, and the fewer infectious cases there are.
So please, stay at home except for when you are buying food or medicines, or exercising.
Go for walks or runs more than once a day if you want to – it’s good for your health and your physical and mental wellbeing. But stay more than two meters from other people when you are out, and do not meet up with people from other households.
Please 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 continue to be really tough. And I know that hearing any talk about easing the lockdown, might make them seem even tougher. But please, I am asking you to stick with it.
We are making progress – never lose sight of that. But – even as we stay in touch by phone, by social media or by video calls – we still need to stay apart physically from each other. We still need to stay at home.
By doing that, we will continue to slow down the spread of the virus, we will continue to protect the NHS, and we will save lives. Thank you, once again, to all of you from the bottom of my heart for what you have been doing.
And please, for now, stay at home.
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