Good afternoon. Thanks once again to all of you for taking part in this media conference.
I want to start by thanking people across Scotland for staying at home this Easter. It seems as though people have overwhelmingly been doing the right thing over this holiday weekend.
I don’t underestimate for a single second how hard this will have been for many of you. But your actions have been crucial. By staying at home, you are slowing the spread of COVID-19, you are protecting our NHS and stop it being overwhelmed and undoubtedly helping to save lives. So thank you for sticking with it – we all know how difficult that is.
There is of course due to be a review of the restrictions this week, but I want today to be very clear.
That review is not likely to result in these restrictions being lifted in the near future. There are early optimistic signs that the steps we are taking are working, but until we know more, until we have solid evidence they must stay in place.
We all want these restrictions to be lifted as soon as possible and as I have said before, and say again today, they will not be in place for a single minute longer than is necessary.
But we also know that if we lift these restrictions too early, or if we do so without thinking through properly how we can ease the restrictions while also still keeping the virus under control, then we risk the virus spreading out of control. And we risk overwhelming our national health service, and of course we risk it taking many more lives
So I know that this way of living our lives right now is not easy, but it is still essential so once again let me thank all of you for the effort and the sacrifices that you're making.
I also want, as usual, to provide you with an update on some of the key statistics in relation to COVID-19 in Scotland.
As at 9 o’clock this morning, there have been 6,067 positive cases confirmed - an increase of 155 from yesterday’s figures. It is worth noting that we do not yet have testing figures for the last 24 hours available from labs in Tayside or Ayrshire and Arran – otherwise that number would be higher.
Across Scotland, a total of 1,797 patients are in hospital with COVID-19 - that is an increase of 42 from yesterday.
And a total of 211 people last night were in intensive care with either confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19. That is a decrease of 10 on yesterday’s figures, although, again, I would caution against reading too much into that at this stage.
And it is with sadness that I can report that there have been nine further deaths of patients who had tested positive for COVID-19. That takes the total number of deaths in Scotland to 575. I want to sound a note of caution about that figure, in two ways
Firstly, the nine that I've just reported is lower than in previous days. While it is now possible to register deaths seven days a week – we will always expect the number registered to be lower at the weekend – and particularly over Easter weekend. So I would expect the figures to be higher tomorrow and the following day as any deaths from the last few days are registered.
And the second point is this one. These figures that I've just reported today only include those deaths where an individual had tested positive for COVID-19. On Wednesday, National Records of Scotland will publish its second weekly report detailing all registered deaths from COVID-19. That means suspected as well as confirmed. And this week's report will also break down these figures by the location of someone's death. That means they will show whether an individual died in hospital, in a care home, in their own home or in another location.
I want to take a moment just to acknowledge that there are particular concerns about people in care homes, and I want to give a very strong assurance that we are working hard with the Care Inspectorate to provide appropriate support for care homes, their staff and the residents.
And secondly, we're working hard to ensure that we can publish full and robust information about the numbers of cases in care homes, which we hope to do later this week.
I want to reflect, as I always do in my own mind when I give the numbers of people who have sadly died - they are not just statistics. They represent individuals who were mothers and fathers, grandparents, sons, daughters, siblings, spouses and partners. They're all unique human beings whose loss is a source of grief to others. So we mourn their loss, and we extend our deepest condolences to all those who are coming in to terms with life without them.
I also want once again to thank everyone who is working in our health and care sector for the incredible work that you are doing. All of us owe you an enormous debt of gratitude. I want to repeat my assurance to you that we in government will do everything we can to support you and we will work hard to quickly address any concerns that you have. That is a responsibility that I, the Health Secretary and all of us in the Scottish Government take both very seriously and very personally.
I have two things I would like to update you on today which are about the non NHS support we are giving people facing challenges.
The first relates to the Scottish Government’s support for charities and third sector organisations who are providing such vital community services at this time.
We announced four weeks ago that we were establishing a £350 million emergency package of support for communities. This included a £50 million wellbeing fund for third sector organisations.
£10 million of this has been allocated for immediate priorities, and £7 million of funding has also been allocated to support around 2,000 charities with small grants. However the majority – up to £33 million, in total - is open to bids from third sector organisations.
We know that third sector organisations are playing a vital part in protecting people’s welfare and wellbeing during this crisis – so we are trying to support them, as they support people across the country .
If third sector organisations need funding to continue providing important services, or if they know that they have good ideas for new services which could help people in these difficult times, I would encourage them to apply.
Expressions of interest can be registered from today and further information is available on the website of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations.
The second piece of information I want to provide is to confirm that from tomorrow, there will be a new telephone helpline for people who we know face significant challenges as a result of COVID-19 but who are not in what we call the shielding group – for example those over the age of 70, people with disabled, those who require support for mental health services, those who are pregnant, and those who receive a flu jab for other health conditions.
So if you're in one of these groups, and you're not already getting shielded support this free helpline is open to you, it will open tomorrow.
The free helpline, whose number is 0800 111 4000. It will be available in daytime hours during the week.
It is intended for those who do not have family or existing community support and cannot get online. If you are in one of these categories, and did not get the number just then, I will give you time to get a pen and read it again in a minute or so.
If you call the helpline, you will be automatically connected to your local authority, who will help you to access the service you need.
Those services include:
Essential food and medication
Contact with local volunteer groups.
Emotional support, or
Links to local social work services for vulnerable children or adults
It’s worth saying that this service is in addition to the localised support which is already available for people who have received letters advising them to shield themselves. And it is – as I have said – intended for those who do not have other means of support and cannot obtain help through other means.
We don't want, as far as possible, anybody to be falling through the net and to be isolated at home without the essential help that you need. So this is about providing people who are vulnerable, with a further way of getting essential help.
So I'm about to give the free helpline number, again, and I stress you will be able to call this from tomorrow. The number is 0800 111 4000.
Anyone of course who is not in these categories but it's still looking for some support and advice can find that on the ready scotland.org website.
I’m about to hand over to the interim Chief Medical Officer and then the Cabinet Secretary for Health. However before I do that, I want once again to repeat the key public health messages.
Please, stay at home unless it is for an essential purpose – such as buying essential items, or exercising. If you leave the house, stay two metres apart from other people. And do not meet up with people from other households.
If you have symptoms of COVID-19 self-isolate for seven days - that means not going out, even for essential purposes. If someone in your household has symptoms that instruction to self-isolate applies for 14 days.
I know that these rules are really difficult – and I know they must have been especially difficult over this holiday weekend. And they will not get any easier as the days pass. But they are vitally important, and they are making a difference.
By staying home, we can all slow the spread of COVID-19; we can protect our precious NHS; and we can save lives. So thank you once again, for doing the right thing.
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