I will start with the usual update on some of the key statistics in relation to Covid-19.
As at 9 o’clock this morning, there have been 15,682 positive cases confirmed through our NHS labs – that’s an increase of 17 from yesterday.
A total of 909 patients are in hospital with confirmed or suspected Covid-19. That represents a total decrease of 78 since yesterday, including a decrease of 10 in the number of confirmed cases.
A total of 21 people last night were in intensive care with confirmed or suspected Covid 19. That is an increase of 3 since yesterday – but all of the increase I should say is in suspected cases.
I am also able to confirm today that since 5 March, a total of 3,858 patients who had tested positive and needed hospital treatment for the virus have been able to leave hospital - and I wish all of them well.
And in the past 24 hours, 5 deaths were registered of patients confirmed through a test as having the virus – the total number of deaths in Scotland, under that measurement, is now therefore 2,439.
As always, it’s important to stress that the figures I have just read out are not just statistics. They all represent individuals who right now are being mourned by their families and friends. So - again – I want to send my deepest condolences to everyone who has lost a loved one to this illness.
I also want to express my thanks – as always – to our health and care workers for the extraordinary work that they continue to do in very difficult and testing circumstances.
Now I want to highlight three issues today – firstly I will cover our latest report, which has just been published, on the “R” number”; I will update on some developments in the construction industry; and talk about support that we are making available for students over the summer.
I’ll then also close by reflecting on the importance of our Test and Protect system, which was launched two weeks ago, and our wider public health guidance.
Let me start though with today’s report on the “R” number.
As you will recall, the R number shows the rate at which this virus is reproducing. So in summary if R is above 1, every person with the virus will infect more than 1 other person, and the virus will then spread exponentially. If R though is below 1, the number of people with the virus will fall.
We estimate that the R number in Scotland, as of last Friday - 5 June - was between 0.6 and 0.8. That is a lower estimate than for two weeks ago, when we calculated that the number was likely to be between 0.7 and 0.9. So, under that estimate, we expect that the virus will continue to decline.
In addition, we estimate that last Friday, 4,500 people in Scotland had the virus and were infectious. Our previous estimate, for 29 May, had been that 11,500 people were likely to be infectious.
Now that, of course, sounds like a very big decline, so it’s worth me stressing, that we don’t actually think the number of infectious people has more than halved in just one week. What has been happening is that we have been reassessing our estimates for previous weeks, based on the latest figures available to us. So, in short, it is likely that the 11,500 was an overestimate, not that the number has halved in a single week.
However, notwithstanding that, these latest estimates reflect the encouraging data that we have seen in the last couple of weeks, and there is no doubt looking at all of this data, that we are making very real progress in combatting and suppressing the virus in Scotland.
However as always, it is important that I inject a note of caution. Firstly, the estimates I have reported to you today, of course don’t yet take account of the phase 1 changes that we made to begin the easing out of lockdown, and we need to continue to monitor any impact from that carefully.
Secondly, the number of people who we estimate will be infectious is certainly smaller than it was, but it is also still large enough to make the virus take off rapidly again if the R number was to go much above 1. So for these reasons we need to celebrate the progress but continue to be careful and cautious.
Next week, in fact a week today, we will have a further review of the lockdown restrictions.
I am currently very hopeful that at that point we will be able to lift some further restrictions. We may not be able to do everything in phase 2, but I hope that we can do certainly, at least, some of that. Of course it is also possible that some of these changes will be phased over a three week period, but I’m hopeful that we will be able to take some further important steps forward when we report on the review next week.
But it is important again to stress that we must do that cautiously and proportionately. And I will also make the point I frequently make, but it is not just an obvious point, it is a very important point, we will be in a better position to lift more restrictions if all of us continue to stick with the current guidelines and further suppress the virus to lower levels than it is even now.
Now one area where we judge we can make some further progress now, is in the construction industry. I can confirm today that the sector will be able to move to the next step of its restart plan - which is something that was always envisaged as part of phase 1 of our route map. So it is not a change to phase 1.
Earlier steps have allowed for health and safety planning, followed by preparatory work at construction sites.
And moving to the next step of the industry plan will now allow workers to return to construction sites gradually, while using measures such as physical distancing and hand hygiene to ensure that they can do so safely.
I am very grateful to the sector and trade unions for the very responsible approach that they have taken during an incredibly difficult time.
It’s important to be very clear though, that we still have a long way to go before construction will be working at full capacity, but there is no doubt this is a significant step in allowing an important industry to return safely to work.
I can also confirm today that we are extending our Help to Buy scheme - which was due to come to an end next March - we are extending that to March 2022.
Under that scheme, the Government provides up to 15% of the cost of buying a new-build home, and recovers its share of the funding when the property is sold, or when the share is bought out.
In recent years, this scheme has helped 17,000 people – more than ¾ of them aged 35 or under – to buy new-build homes. It has also, of course, been a valuable support for house builders. At present, of course, the pandemic means that the scheme is not being used.
So by confirming that it is being extended, I hope we can ensure that more people – who may otherwise have missed out on this scheme - are able to move into new homes in the future, and also that we are to provide a bit more confidence for the construction sector.
The third issue I want to talk about is support for students.
We know that many students rely on income from seasonal or part-time jobs – especially over the summer months – and that the economic impact of Covid will therefore cause them particular difficulties.
And that can be especially important for higher education students, who, unlike further education students, can’t usually claim benefits over the summer.
We have already provided additional support for students, and we have also suspended debt recovery action by the Student Awards Agency. And today, we are bringing forward more than £11 million of further support.
This funding will be administered by colleges and universities to help higher education students who most need it. And it is a further way in which we are trying to support students, at a time when many of them are still facing potential hardship.
Test and Protect
Now the final issue I want to cover today relates to my earlier discussion of the R number, and how we hope next week to announce some further changes to lockdown restrictions.
As we do that – as we gradually, and I emphasise gradually, return to meeting more people, and living a bit more freely, which all of us are of course keen to do – our test and protect system will become ever more important in helping us all to live a less restricted life, while still being able to suppress the virus.
Now yesterday, we published the first data from the system, which started two weeks ago today.
And that data shows, that in the period up to 7 June, 681 people who reported symptoms had tested positive for Covid. As of yesterday, contact tracing had been completed for 481 of those, and was in progress for a further 50.
Amongst those 531 cases, a total of 741 contacts had been traced – that’s just under 1½ people per case. And of course people’s contacts right now will be lower than normal because of the lockdown restrictions that are in place.
Now there’s two points that I think that are important for me to note about this data – and it is very initial data.
The first is that the number of people who have tested positive is higher than is suggested by our daily figures – the ones I report on new cases here each day.
That is because our daily figures do not yet cover tests from labs run by the UK Government – such as those for regional test centres and mobile units - although we will be able to include that information very soon.
In addition, the current figures slightly overstate the number of cases where no tracing has been carried out so far. One reason for that is that some historic cases - from the time when the system was being piloted - still feature in the data. If that historic data is removed, the proportion of completed cases increases from 71% to 86%.
We will publish more detailed data on test and protect in the weeks ahead because it is important not just that government understands how well it is working but you the public can see that too. But I want to be very clear that our preliminary indications are that test and protect is already working well. And of course we will identify areas for improvement as and when they arise and as the system becomes ever more established.
Fundamentally though, I want to stress to everyone watching just how important test and protect is and how important is it going to continue to be in the weeks and potentially the months that lie ahead.
I guess it essentially represents for all of us a kind of social bargain.
If you have symptoms, or – and in some ways actually this is the much more difficult bit, if you have been in contact with someone who has symptoms, even if you don’t have symptoms yourself - we will ask you to isolate completely.
We will support you in doing that, if you need that support – but it is still a very tough thing to ask people to do.
However, and this is the social bargain bit, if all of us agree to do that when necessary, it means that all of us together collectively will be able to continue to emerge from lockdown while keeping the virus under control.
At any one time, some of us will have to self-isolate for a period, so that together, all of us can start to lead a less restricted life.
So please, if you have symptoms of Covid-19 – remember that’s a new continuous cough, or a fever, or a loss of or change in your sense of taste or smell - please do not wait for a few hours or a day or two to see if you feel better. Start self-isolating immediately that you experience these symptoms, and ask for a test immediately.
To remind you, you can do that by going to the NHS inform website, or by phoning NHS 24 on 0800 028 2816 – that’s 0800 028 2816. If we all do that, when we experience symptoms and if any of us are contacted to say we have been in close contact with someone who has the virus, and we agree to self-isolate, then all of us are going to help enable the whole country to get out of lockdown, not just a bit more quickly, but more safely as well.
The final point I’d like to make before we move on to questions is that your best way of reducing, the best way of all of us to reduce our chance of being a close contact with somebody with the virus – and of being asked to self-isolate as a result – is by continuing to stick to our key public health guidance. And of course, that is also our best way of avoiding and getting and transmitting the virus.
So just to remind everybody what that guidance is, you should still be staying home most of the time right now, and you should still be meeting fewer people than you normally would. If your life feels like it is getting back to normal right now, please ask yourself why that is – because it shouldn’t yet be feeling as if it is getting back to normal.
When you do meet people from another household, you absolutely must stay outdoors, do not go indoors, and you must stay 2 metres apart from members of the other household.
Please, do not meet up with more than one other household at a time, don’t meet more than one in the course of any single day - and please keep to a maximum, I stress a maximum, of 8 people in any group.
Wash your hands often, make sure you’re doing it thoroughly. If you are out of your home take hand sanitiser with you.
Wear a face covering if you are in an enclose space, where physical distancing may be more difficult, for example in a shop or on public transport. Again I want to stress that. We know that one of us wearing a face covering helps reduce the risk of us transmitting the virus to somebody else. And somebody else wearing a face covering reduces the risk of them transmitting the virus to us.
It’s another way in which we can all act to protect each other.
Avoid touching hard surfaces – and any you do touch make sure you are cleaning them thoroughly.
And as I have already covered today, if you have symptoms of Covid-19 – ask for a test immediately, and please follow the advice on self-isolation.
Above all else, all of us right now should remember that in every single individual decision we take, we are potentially affecting the health and the wellbeing of others, and indeed the wellbeing of the whole country.
So if all of us continue to do the right thing, if all of us continue to stick to these rules, then we will continue to see the progress that I have been reporting in recent days, and we will be able to come out of lockdown, hopefully even more quickly, but much more importantly than that, we will be able to do that sustainably, because we will come out of lockdown and continue to suppress this virus, which is our overall aim.
So thank you for everything you have been doing. Please keep doing it, so that together we can continue to make this life saving progress.
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