Good afternoon, and welcome to today’s briefing.
I am joined today by the Cabinet Secretary for the Economy, Fair Work and Culture Fiona Hyslop and our National Clinical Director, Jason Leitch.
Let me start, as always, with an update on some of the key statistics in relation to Covid-19.
As at 9 o’clock this morning, there have been 15,709 positive cases confirmed through our NHS laboratories, and that is an increase of 27 from yesterday.
A total of 914 patients are in hospital with confirmed or suspected Covid-19. That represents an increase of 5 overall from yesterday. However, the number of confirmed cases within that has reduced by 20.
A total of 23 people last night were in intensive care with confirmed or suspected COVID-19, and that is an increase of two since yesterday.
I am also able to confirm that since 5 March, a total of 3,873 patients who had tested positive and needed hospital treatment have since been able to leave hospital. I wish all of them well.
In the last 24 hours, 3 deaths were registered of patients confirmed through a test as having the virus. That takes the total number of deaths in Scotland, under that measurement, to 2,442.
Even as we see these figures decline – thankfully so – it is nevertheless really important that we don’t lose sight of the fact that they are not just statistics. They all represent unique loved individuals whose loss is a source of grief to many people. So once again, my condolences are with everyone who has lost a loved one to this illness.
I will also express again my thanks to our health and care workers. Your efforts are enormously appreciated and, again, even as we see numbers in hospital and intensive care reducing, we know that you are still working incredibly hard in difficult circumstances, and you have our deep gratitude for that.
There are two items I want to update on today.
The first relates to the economy. Today’s GDP figures show that in April the UK economy contracted by more than 20%. That is – by some distance – the largest decline on record. And it confirms the scale of the economic crisis that has inevitably been caused by the health crisis that we face.
I have previously welcomed the UK Government's interventions, especially the furlough scheme which has helped to preserve jobs during this period but, in my view, it is now time to signal a further extension of Treasury support.
Other countries have already made this move, including France where plans are being put in place for a long-term partial activity scheme covering possibly, as long as the next two years.
The alternative to extended support being put in place is either that businesses are forced to re-open before it is safe to do so – and that of course could damage health and it could cost lives – or businesses have to take an even bigger hit, and that will cost jobs.
In my view neither of those two alternatives is acceptable so I hope we will see further action from the UK Government and we look forward to working constructively with them, playing our full part in making all of that happen.
The fall in GDP is obviously something we discussed in this morning’s weekly meeting of the Scottish Cabinet’s economic sub-committee.
We also looked ahead to the publication of the latest statistics on Scotland’s labour market, next Tuesday. Those figures will cover February to April of this year – so that’s a period which obviously includes the first full month of lockdown.
I don't want to pre-empt that publication, I'm not able to pre-empt it, but we do expect to see a significant impact on employment, and a rise in unemployment. And sadly, despite all of our best efforts that situation is likely to remain challenging in the period ahead.
And of course, all of that is before we factor in any potential impact on the economy from Brexit.
That is why I have today joined with the First Minister of Wales in writing to the UK Government calling for an extended Brexit transition period – to take away the risk of a ‘no deal’ outcome and also to make sure that all of us remain focused on supporting business through the post-COVID recovery, and not making the challenges that the economy and our businesses face any worse than it already is.
That is the action I believe we need from the UK, but I am acutely aware of the responsibility I have as First Minister, and that the Scottish Government has, to make sure we are doing everything within our power, and resources.
That is relevant to the announcement I'm making today because we are incredibly focused on making sure we are taking action to protect jobs and, hopefully in the future to create jobs, as we lead our economy through the post-COVID recovery.
The impact of this crisis is of course felt across our whole economy. I had discussions yesterday with the tourism sector – a sector particularly hard hit. And we know there are other sectors that are particularly badly affected too.
For example, Scotland's energy sector is facing a massive decline in global demand, and that is having a very serious impact on our economy.
The Scottish Government wants to do everything we can to support the energy sector through this crisis.
We want to protect jobs and businesses in the north-east of Scotland and across the country. And in doing that we want to make sure that the sector is able to continue to lead, and indeed to benefit from Scotland's necessary transition to a net-zero economy.
That's why today, I'm announcing a new £62 million energy transition fund.
Over the next 5 years the Fund will support key energy projects which will help Scotland’s move to net-zero.
For example, one project – the Global Underwater Hub – brings together engineering expertise from academia and industry. And it will help our oil and gas sector to use its existing subsea and underwater expertise in new areas such as marine renewables.
Another project receiving support will be the Energy Transition Zone – a new business park adjacent to the Aberdeen South Harbour. That will provide state of the art facilities for the manufacturing and development of renewable and low carbon technologies.
Almost inevitably, given the focus of the fund is the transition from oil and gas to renewables, the projects which directly benefit from this fund are currently based in the north east of Scotland. But by securing Scotland’s place as a world leader in key technologies for the future, they will help businesses right across the country to diversify, to attract new investment, seize new opportunities and both protect and create jobs.
We know that the energy transition will shape our country’s economic future. That was true before the COVID crises and it remains true during and after the COVID crisis.
Through these investments not only will we shape that energy future and economic future, we will also help with the economic recovery from the crisis currently afflicting so many businesses across Scotland.
The second issue I want to touch on today concerns the Scottish Government’s approach to easing restrictions.
As I’m sure many of you know and will be eagerly anticipating, the current restrictions will be reviewed again on Thursday next week.
Our considerations will be informed, as they will always be, by the scientific evidence and advice and the clear principles we have set out.
However, I have been acutely aware throughout this crisis that it’s not, and never will be, enough for me simply to tell you what I want you to do.
I also have a duty to explain to you, on an ongoing basis, the reasons behind what we are asking you to do.
In fact the reason that I conduct these press briefings on a daily basis is to ensure that you get clear and direct information – on the impact of COVID-19 and on the country’s response.
That’s vital to ensuring that people understand the threat this virus poses – but also how we can all work together to reduce and mitigate that threat.
I’ve spoken before about some of the research we undertake to check that the messages we're trying to convey are getting across.
We're going to publish the latest research today so that you are able, if you are interested, to read it for yourself.
It shows, amongst other things that the vast majority of people in Scotland continue to support a careful and gradual easing of the restrictions.
But the aspect of the research I wanted to particularly highlight today is around public attitudes to our new Test and Protect system.
The research shows that 90% of people say that they would be willing to isolate for 14 days if someone they had come into contact with had symptoms of the virus.
90% said they would be willing to undergo Coronavirus testing if asked to do this.
And 88% are happy to provide details of people they had been in contact with if they develop coronavirus symptoms
That’s important and it’s also really encouraging because, as I’ve said to you before, Test and Protect is going to be a vital tool in keeping the virus suppressed as we ease more restrictions.
But Test and Protect can only work if all of us across the country are willing to comply with the measures that it sets out - if we're willing to get tested when we have symptoms, if we're willing to isolate if we have the virus, and if we're willing to self-isolate if we've been a close contact of someone with the virus.
So these research findings, showing that willingness to make personal sacrifices for the common good, are really encouraging and I want to thank everybody for that spirit of collective endeavour that I think we all still have.
Now I want to conclude today with a key point about the critical juncture that we are at in fighting this virus.
I know that as cases, hospitalisations, numbers in intensive care, deaths, and the R number all decline, many will think that means we should speed up our exit from lockdown. And I understand that.
We are all deeply, deeply anxious about the impact on the economy. But the fact is this; the reason we are making such good progress now is that we are carefully, following a plan.
And if we depart from that plan we will risk the progress we're making.
On the other hand, if we're prepared to stick with the plan I believe we will keep making further progress.
And the more we suppress this virus, the more lives will be saved and the fewer people will suffer the long term health consequences that increasingly we fear that it might leave some people with.
But also, if we suppress this virus sufficiently, we will be able to restore a greater degree of normality to all of our lives.
So while I understand the desire for speed of recovery, the sustainability of our recovery also really matters.
The simple fact is if we go too fast now we risk a resurgence of the virus that will then set us back, and that is a risk, in my view, we must be careful not to take.
So I very much hope that we can and will take more steps forward at next week's review, but I want to be very clear that we must continue to do that carefully and cautiously. And if we do, we will continue to suppress this virus, and it will mean that we get back to more normality than we will otherwise do.
All of you can help us in moving in the right direction by sticking with the rules.
So as we head into the weekend I want to briefly reiterate again the key public health guidance that is in place for now.
We should all still be staying at home most of the time and meeting fewer people than normal.
If your life feels like it is getting back to normal think about whether you're complying with the guidance as you should be.
When you meet people from another household you must stay outdoors and you must stay two metres apart from them.
Don't meet up with more than one household at a time. Don't meet up with more than one a day. And please keep to a maximum of eight people in a group.
Wash your hands, often. Wear a face covering when you are in a shop or public transport – or in any enclosed space where it is more difficult to physically distance.
Avoid touching hard surfaces and clean those that you do touch.
And, as I have said already, if you have symptoms of COVID-19 ask for a test immediately – go to the NHS Inform website and follow the advice on self-isolation.
Above all else we all have to remember that we are still in a situation where our actions as individuals have an impact on the health and well-being of everybody.
So I want to end again today by thanking you sincerely for your patience, for your forbearance, and for making the sacrifices you are making so that collectively as a country we continue to get through this crisis.
My thanks to all of you and I will now hand over to the Economy Secretary to say a few words before handing over to Professor Leitch.
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