Coronavirus (COVID-19) update: First Minister's speech 15 July 2020

Statement given by the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at the media briefing in St Andrew's House, Edinburgh on Wednesday 15  July.

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Good afternoon, and welcome to today’s briefing.

I’ll start as usual with an update on the latest Covid figures.

Since yesterday, an additional five cases of Covid-19 have been confirmed, which takes the total number now to 18,373.

A total of 611 patients are currently in hospital with suspected or confirmed Covid-19, which is an overall decrease of five since yesterday, but an increase of two in the number of confirmed cases.

As of last night, six people were in intensive care with confirmed or suspected Covid-19, which is a decrease of six on the number that I reported yesterday. There are still only two confirmed cases in ICU.

Since 5 March, a total of 4,132 patients who had tested positive for Covid-19 and been admitted to hospital, have now been able to leave hospital.

And I am very pleased to say that in the last 24 hours, no deaths have been registered of a person who had been confirmed as having the virus.

That is the seventh day in a row in which no deaths have been recorded in our daily figures, and means that the total number of deaths in Scotland - under that measurement - remains at 2,490.

The National Records of Scotland has just published its regular weekly report, which is more comprehensive than our daily figures. Like the daily figures, it includes deaths of people who have been confirmed by a test as having COVID.

However, it also covers cases where the virus has been entered on a death certificate as a suspected or contributory cause of death - even if its presence was not confirmed by a test.

The latest NRS report covers the period to Sunday 12 July. At that point, according to our daily figures, 2,490 deaths of people who had tested positive for the virus had been registered.

However, today’s report shows that, by Sunday, the total number of registered deaths with either a confirmed or a presumed link to the virus was 4,187. Of those, 13 were registered in the seven days up to Sunday. That is a decrease of five from the week before.

The number of Covid-19 deaths in care homes increased slightly from five to seven, meaning that deaths in care homes made up just over half of all Covid deaths last week. 

Finally, the total number of deaths recorded last week – from all causes - was 56 below the five year average for the same time of year. This is the third week in a row that the total number of deaths has been below the five year average.

Last week was the 11th week in a row in which the number of deaths from Covid has fallen.

These weekly figures – although they capture more cases – therefore show the same trend as our daily figures. They show that Covid is being driven to very low levels in Scotland.

However these numbers also speak of tragedy for many. 

Every death which has been reported has resulted in loss for a family or friends. I want to send my condolences to everyone who is grieving the loss of a loved one to this virus.

I also want, as I always do, to thank our health and care workers.

And since today is Scottish Care’s Care Home Day, I want to thank in particular Scotland’s care workers– and also the other staff who are essential to the operation of care homes, such as cleaning staff, kitchen workers and many others.

All of you in recent months have shown skill, dedication and compassion above and beyond the call of duty, and you have my heartfelt thanks for that and I am sure you have the heartfelt thanks of everybody across the country.

In a few minutes, Fiona Hyslop, the Economy Secretary will provide talk about about some additional Scottish Government support for business.

I want to cover two points which are closely interrelated.

The first is to let you know that the Scottish Government is publishing a new paper today which sets out our approach to surveillance of the virus, and the management of outbreaks.

Prevalence of the virus in Scotland has now fallen to very low levels – but as we all go out and about a bit more, it becomes increasingly important that we are very alert, hyper-vigilant to any early warnings that case levels might be starting to rise once again.

It is also important that where cases do arise, we are able to respond quickly - as we did two weeks ago in Dumfries and Galloway.

Our Test and Protect system is absolutely vital to that. It means we can pick up on individual cases – or clusters of cases - and work to disrupt chains of transmission.

But as today’s publication sets out, we are also using other sources of information to give us as early a warning as possible of any potential outbreaks.

For example NHS 24 call data, which shows the number of people asking about Covid-like symptoms – is potentially an early indicator of community transmission in some areas. Whole genome sequencing, on the other hand, allows us to assess the likelihood of different cases being part of a cluster.

We have also established a data and intelligence network - with representation from academia and key public health officials - which can assess relevant information quickly and allow that information to inform our decision-making, both at a national and a local level.

Health Protection Scotland has also updated its guidance on the management of public health incidents, which helps to ensure we can respond rapidly to incidents or outbreaks.

These are all important ways of preparing ourselves to identify, and deal with, outbreaks of Covid as they arise. But as I have indicated, Test and Protect is perhaps the most important of all and is central to the entire system.  

So let me repeat again the advice I have given on many occasions in the past. If you have the symptoms of Covid – a high temperature or fever; a new cough; or a loss of, or change in, your sense of smell or taste – please act immediately, do not wait to see if you get better.

Self-isolate immediately and book a test through the NHS Inform website, or on 0800 028 2816. Speed of action here is of the essence and if you follow this advice you are helping to ensure that when cases of Covid do arise, our contact tracers are able to step in quickly and break those chains of transmission.

That advice – and our wider surveillance system – becomes even more important as we open up more public services, and different parts of our economy.

It’s especially important to talk about this today, therefore – since today is the biggest step so far out of lockdown.

The childcare sector can fully open from today. The Education Secretary, will join me tomorrow and we will say more about that.

Venues such as museums, galleries, and other attractions can also welcome visitors from today, although in many cases you will need to secure tickets in advance.

Hairdressing services resume today – in fact I understand some opened at midnight to meet demand. I wish I had known about that.

Cinemas can also open their doors.

Places of worship can reopen for communal services and prayer for up to 50 people - if that can be accommodated with physical distancing.

Our tourism sector fully reopens – so hotels and bed and breakfasts, for example, can welcome guests.

And indoor hospitality such as pubs and restaurants can start up again.

All of this, of course, has strict conditions attached.

But it is all good news. These changes are long-awaited and they have been very hard-earned by everybody across the country.

But I have to say that I am even more nervous about today’s moves than I have been about earlier changes to lockdown.

That is because today’s steps are – by some margin - the highest risk changes we have made since we started to come out of lockdown. Many of them involve indoor activity, and we know that the risk of the virus spreading indoors - in a pub for example - is significantly higher than outdoors.

That is why we have deliberately waited until infection levels are very low before allowing these services to restart. That gives us the best possible chance of managing the risks that a reopening of indoor services creates. But it doesn’t remove those risks.

And so it is vital, more vital than it has been at any stage of this crisis so far, that all of us stick to the rules and guidance on how to behave in these different settings. It is only by doing that, as we open up these services, that we will stop the virus spreading again.

So give your contact details when you are asked for them – it means you can be contacted if you go to somewhere which is linked to new Covid cases and the ability to contact you will be essential to breaking the chains of transmission.

Keep a two metre distance if and where you are in one metre zone, comply with all the necessary mitigations.

Wear a face covering in indoor environments and remember they are mandatory in shops and on public transport.

And continue to wash your hands regularly and thoroughly. All of these steps are more important than ever.

And for everyone running these premises and workplaces and attractions, please follow the relevant public health guidance. It has been put in place to keep you, your staff and your customers and visitors safe. And it's also there to minimise the risk of us having to close everything down again in future if the virus starts to spread.

I mentioned yesterday that the state of California has just shut all its bars, cinemas, restaurants and museums all over again.

That should be a reminder that our progress out of lockdown could yet go into reverse. And it will go into reverse, if we see signs that the virus is starting to spread widely in the community again. All of us must do everything we can to ensure that that doesn’t happen.

So in the days and weeks ahead, enjoy your first meal out in a long time if you are able to do that, enjoy your first drink indoors if you want to do that, enjoy  your first haircut, which I know many of us across the country will certainly do. And please support local businesses wherever you can. They need our support at this time more than ever. But do it carefully. 

Co-operate with staff and organisers at these different venues. And if any venue doesn’t seem to be taking this advice seriously – for example if it doesn't ask for your contact details and doesn’t seem to be clear about physical distancing – then take your custom elsewhere, because that is for your safety and the safety of those around you.

Ultimately, it is only by sticking to all of these rules that any of us will continue to enjoy these services for the rest of the summer, and through the autumn and winter and beyond.

Let me leave you with one other piece of information that shows the progress we are making and will also hopefully motivate all of us to keep doing the right thing.

The figures I report out each day include the total number of people in hospital with suspected or confirmed Covid. 

Figures published today by Public Health Scotland, give a breakdown of how many people were actually admitted to hospital on each day last week – between the 3rd and the 9th July. 

They show that on three days in that week, there were no admissions to hospital of confirmed COVID cases.  

In fact since 26 June, we have had six days where there have been no confirmed cases of the virus admitted to hospital.  If I think back to the early part of April and into May, what I would have given to stand here and give you figures like that. That is the progress I am able to report to you.

Just like the days where we are able to report that no deaths have been registered under our daily measure - and now we have had seven days in a row of that - these hospital numbers are a really significant milestone. 

I do not want to go back to the days where each and every day people were being admitted to hospital. At the peak of this outbreak more than 200 people were being admitted to hospital every day. Let's not take the risk of going back to that. Let's make sure we do everything we all need to do as individual citizens to protect ourselves and protect each other and keep us on the right track when it comes to tackling and hopefully eliminating this virus. 

Let me leave you with the most important advice of all. If you remember nothing else I ask you to remember FACT.

  • Face coverings should be worn in enclosed spaces such as shops and public transport.
  • Avoid crowded places.
  • Clean your hands and hard surfaces regularly.
  • Two metre distancing remains the rule. 
  • and Self isolate, and book a test, if you have symptoms.

If we all follow these five basic measures then the nerves and anxiety that I am feeling right now will hopefully prove to be not well-founded, because we will manage to open up our country again without allowing this horrible virus to spread.

So let's, as we have done over these four long, painful months, keep working in that spirit of collective solidarity and keep beating this virus.

Thank you all so much.

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