- 10 Aug 2020
Good afternoon, and thanks for joining us.
I’ll start with the usual update on the most recent Covid-19 statistics for Scotland.
I can confirm that an additional 29 positive cases were confirmed yesterday. That represents 0.8% of the people who were newly tested yesterday, and it takes the total number of cases in Scotland to 19,027.
A full health board breakdown will be available later, but the provisional information I have is that 18 of the 29 cases are in the Grampian health board area.
It is not yet clear how many are connected to the ongoing outbreak in Aberdeen and I will say a little bit more about the situation there shortly.
A total of 267 patients are currently in hospital with confirmed Covid, that is six more than yesterday and three people are in intensive care and that is the same as yesterday.
I’m also very pleased to say that yet again in the past 24 hours, no deaths were registered of patients who tested positive over the previous 28 days and therefore the number of deaths under that measurement remains 2,491. Obviously though the total number of deaths still reminds us every single day of the dreadful impact of Covid and my condolences again go to everyone who has suffered loss.
And as always, I want to thank everyone who is working hard to help our country through this pandemic.
I have two things I want to update on today. The first is the current situation in Aberdeen and then I want to say a bit about the reopening of schools from tomorrow.
I’ve just mentioned that in the last 24 hours, 18 new cases were confirmed in the Grampian Health Board area.
That means that in the 15 days since 26th of July, a total of 231 cases in Grampian have been identified.
We understand that 157 of those are linked in some way to the Aberdeen cluster.
And a total of 852 contacts have now been identified from those 157 cases.
Now it’s important to stress that those 852 contacts might not equate exactly to 852 people – there is likely to be some overlap between different cases.
But that figure helps to give some idea, I think, of the scale of the tracing exercise which is underway in Aberdeen.
The majority of those contacts have already been traced, and tracing procedures are in place for the others. And that in itself shows how hard and well our Test and Protect teams are working – even in relation to a large and complex cluster.
In addition, I hope that the measures that we put in place in Aberdeen last week will help to slow and then stop transmission before it becomes widespread within the community.
And the advice we have put in place about not travelling to or from Aberdeen - unless absolutely essential - should reduce the risk of cases spreading from Aberdeen to other parts of Scotland.
That said we do expect the number of cases and contacts in the Aberdeen cluster to rise further in the days ahead. But I want to take the opportunity again to thank all those working hard locally to seek to contain this cluster as quickly and as effectively as possible.
More generally, the events of the past fortnight have been a reminder of how fragile Scotland’s overall position is and that is the same in countries across the world.
We have seen and we are still seeing, thankfully, low rates of transmission in most parts of the country.
But we have also seen in Aberdeen how quickly that can change, it can literally change in an instant. And it will change, if we drop our guard.
So, for that reason, whenever you are out and about, please continue to think about your own actions, not just in Aberdeen but wherever you happen to be in the country.
Let me remind you that no more than three households should be meeting together indoors at any one time – in each other’s homes, and in places like bars and restaurants. It is important to recognize that household limit applies in places like bars and restaurants just as it does in your own home.
And people from different households should be staying physically distant from each other at all times. And again that is something we advise strongly if you are in a bar, just as we do if you are meeting other households in your own house.
And each of us should be thinking about our recent behaviour. All of us asking ourselves have we been a bit more relaxed about things like physical distancing when we’ve been meeting up with friends recently? Are we creating more bridges that allow this virus to spread, to travel from us to another household, or from another household to us?
Because if we are doing that, and I think it is inevitable that many of us will have dropped our guard that little bit, then now is the time to recognise that and try to rectify it, because the fact is we all still need to be really careful right now. And Aberdeen is very hard proof of that fact.
Nobody’s life, while our lives have regained a bit of normality in recent weeks, nobody’s life should be feeling absolutely normal at the moment. Covid is still present, and we know it is still highly infectious. So all of us have a big role to play in trying to keep it under control. And one reason why that is so important, why suppressing and hopefully eliminating the virus is so important, is that it is the best way of ensuring that schools can reopen, and then stay open, safely. That has to be a priority for all of us, and it is very much a priority for Government.
Earlier this morning I visited West Calder High School in West Lothian, to see for myself the preparations that they are making for reopening this week.
Like many schools across the country, they are having a phased return.
Tomorrow is an in-service day for staff.
Wednesday is for students in secondary school years 1 to 3. And Thursday is for students in year 1, and years 4 to 6.
And then from Friday, all students will be in the school full-time.
I think it is worth saying that for students and staff, school will feel different to how it was before.
There will, for example, be a lot more handwashing.
Some schools will have staggered starts and lunchbreaks - at West Calder for example, school lunches have to be ordered on an app in the morning and collected at lunchtime.
And for staff, while young people are not required to keep two metres apart within schools, teachers and other adult staff do need to keep that distance.
Now, I know that there will be nerves and anxiety for children, parents and teachers this week and I think that is entirely understandable.
Hopefully induction days that I know are happening in many schools will help young people to get used to the changes, and to being around each other again.
But fundamentally all of us know that the reopening of schools is essential for children’s education, personal development and indeed I think for their general wellbeing and happiness.
So what we are doing, is trying to ensure that the reopening is safe and effective.
I was really impressed and reassured this morning by what I saw of the preparations at West Calder, and I know those preparations are being repeated in schools right across the country, and I am very grateful to everyone – teachers, teaching assistants, local authority workers and all school staff – who are enabling schools to safely reopen.
There are three other quick points I just want to make in relation to schools.
The first is that although schools can reopen from tomorrow, this reopening does not yet apply to unregulated indoor activities for school children – for example some indoor play or activity clubs, and some faith-related education such as Sunday schools and madrassahs. They should not start again until agreed guidance is in place.
The second point is about travel. We know that the reopening of schools will put extra pressure on public transport and on our road network.
So Transport Scotland is today launching a Travel Safe campaign. It asks commuters to help the transport system by only travelling if you need to, and by working at home when you can.
But if you do need to travel, please walk, cycle or wheel to work whenever that is possible.
And if you need to use public transport or if you need to drive, which will be the case for some people, think about whether you could make your journey outside of the peak times.
The continued need for physical distancing on public transport, as schools reopen and as more business activities resume, will put more pressure on transport services. So the Travel Safe campaign is intended to help you think about ways in which you can help with that.
The final point I want to cover today is for those pupils, and indeed parents of pupils, who received their SQA results last week.
John Swinney will make a statement in parliament tomorrow about the steps we intend to take to address concerns about this year’s results.
And at the heart of that, we will be taking steps to ensure that every young person gets a grade that recognises the work they have done.
Let me be clear about this - in a very difficult and unprecedented situation, we took decisions that we thought, on balance, were the right ones, and we took them with the very best of intentions. These were broadly the same decisions that have been reached for England and Wales as well.
But our concern – which was to make sure that the grades young people got, were as valid as those they would have got in any other year - perhaps led us to think too much about the overall system and not enough about the individual pupil.
And that has meant that too many students feel that they have lost out on grades they should have had - and also that has happened as a result, not of anything they’ve done, but because of a statistical model or an algorithm. In addition, that burden has not fallen equally across our society.
So despite our best intentions, I do acknowledge that we did not get this right and I am sorry for that.
But instead of doing what politicians sometimes do and dig our heels in, we are determined to acknowledge that and to put it right.
There are, of course, deeper questions that we will need to resolve for the longer term - about the impact of exams on the attainment gap, and on the difference between exams and teacher judgment.
But the most immediate challenge is to resolve the grades awarded to pupils this year.
As I have said we will set out our approach tomorrow to the Scottish Parliament, but let me be clear that we will not expect every student who has been downgraded to appeal.
This situation is not the fault of students, and so it should not be on students to fix it. That is on us, and we will set out tomorrow exactly how we intend to do that.
These are the two main issues I wanted to cover today.
Obviously we will talk a lot more about both of these issues, and no doubt others, as the week progresses.
Before I hand over, first to the Health Secretary and then to the Chief Medical Officer, let me just close by reminding everybody again of FACTS - the five rules that we all must follow to stay as safe as possible.
- Face coverings in enclosed spaces
- Avoid crowded places.
- Clean your hands and hard surfaces regularly.
- Two metre distancing remains the overall rule.
- and self isolate, and book a test, if you have symptoms.
If we all comply with these five golden rules, then we will collectively reduce the risk of this virus spreading.
So I encourage everybody to do that and to do that rigorously because it is in the interest of all of us, individually, in the interest of our families, but also in the interests of the country as a whole.