Thank you very much Presiding Officer,
As you know, the Scottish Government is legally required to review Covid restrictions regularly.
The latest review is due tomorrow, and I will shortly set our conclusions and the reasons for those.
I will also give an update on two developments today – the laying of new regulations on face coverings, and the publication of further details on how businesses affected by the temporary restrictions announced last week can apply for support.
And lastly I will talk a bit about the Scottish Government’s proposed new strategic approach to tackling Covid, and how we intend to involve Parliament in the development, agreement and implementation of that approach.
But first I will give an update on the daily Covid statistics.
The total number of positive cases reported yesterday was 1,351.
That represents 17.6% of people newly tested, and takes the total number of cases to 44,036.
450 of the new cases were in Greater Glasgow and Clyde, 374 in Lanarkshire, 161 in Lothian and 111 in Ayrshire and Arran.
The remaining cases were spread across all of the other mainland health board areas.
I can also confirm that 601 people are currently in hospital – which is an increase of 31 from yesterday.
51 people are currently in intensive care, that is 2 more than yesterday.
And I very much regret to report that in the past 24 hours, an additional 13 deaths have been registered of patients who first tested positive over the previous 28 days.
That means that the total number of deaths, under the measure used in our daily figures, is now 2,585.
Once again, I want to send my deepest condolences to everyone who have lost a loved one to this illness.
These figures confirm the trends of recent weeks – we are seeing high numbers of new cases, leading to increasing hospital and ICU admissions and, sadly, to a rising number of deaths.
Even in the 9 days since I set out the new restrictions on hospitality, the average daily number of new cases in Scotland has risen from 788 to 1,178.
The number of people in hospital with Covid has increased from 262 to 601. And the number of people in intensive care has doubled from 25 to 51.
However, for all that, it remains the case that we are in a stronger position than in March. Infection levels are still lower; cases are still rising less quickly; and of course Test & Protect is taking a lot of the strain of controlling the virus.
And, although we are not yet seeing the impact of this in our statistics, we acted quickly to introduce restrictions on household gatherings three weeks ago and on hospitality last week.
But the fact remains for us as for countries across the world this is a critical moment and our position is precarious.
That demands tough decisions from government - even if those decisions are understandably unwelcome - and it also demands a willingness on the part of each and every one of us to behave in ways that will hinder the virus rather than help it spread.
For all these reasons, I must confirm to Parliament today that all of the existing Covid restrictions and guidance will remain in place for now.
That means we should all continue to work from home if at all possible.
None of us should visit other people’s houses - except for extended household arrangements or essential reasons like childcare or looking after a vulnerable person.
Outdoors or in indoor public places that are open we must limit gatherings to a maximum of 6 people from no more than two households.
Bars, pubs, restaurants and cafes outside the five health board areas with tougher restrictions can only open indoors until 6pm for the service of food and non alcoholic drinks.
Pubs, bars and restaurants in Greater Glasgow & Clyde, Lanarkshire, Ayrshire & Arran, Lothian and Forth Valley must remain closed completely, indoors and outdoors. Cafes in these areas can open until 6pm only.
People living in any one of these central Scotland areas should not travel outside their own area unless they really need to.
And people in other parts of Scotland should not travel to these areas unless its absolutely necessary.
We are also asking people to avoid travel to areas of high risk in other parts of the UK - the detail of which areas are in these categories will be kept updated on the Scottish Government website.
And we are specifically asking people not to go on trips to Blackpool unless necessary.
Yesterday I said that over the past month 180 people who had tested positive for Covid had reported recent travel to Blackpool. I can report that figure is now 286.
These restrictions are hard – they are hard for individuals and they are hard for businesses - but they are essential.
They mirror what many countries across Europe are doing and we hope and believe they will have an impact on transmission.
However, I must be clear that we will keep the situation under review and propose further measures if we consider that to be necessary to keep people safe. And I will say more shortly about how we will approach decisions in the weeks ahead.
Firstly, let me touch on two other matters.
I indicated to Parliament last week our intention to introduce new regulations on face coverings. I can confirm that regulations are being laid today and two measures will come into force tomorrow.
The regulations in one respect will actually deliver some flexibility. They will exempt a couple from having to wear a face covering during their marriage or civil partnership ceremony. This is a small but important change which I hope will be welcomed by anyone about to tie the knot.
However, more significantly, the regulations will bring the rules on wearing face coverings in workplace canteens into line with rules in restaurants and cafes.
So from tomorrow, anybody in a workplace canteen will have to wear a face covering when they are not seated at a table - for example if they are queueing, or are entering or leaving the canteen or going to the bathroom.
A further change will take effect on Monday. This will require face coverings to be worn in other communal workplace areas such as corridors.
The responsibility for complying with these measures rests with individuals. But I would urge employers to take steps in their workplaces to explain and promote the new regulations. The new rules are a proportionate additional step, which will help employees to keep themselves and their colleagues that bit safer.
The second issue I want to touch on briefly relates to support for business.
I made it clear that we would support businesses and workers affected by the temporary restrictions announced last week.
In total, we are making £40 million of support available, that includes a £20 million grant fund which will be administered by local authorities. Details of the application process for that fund have just been published on the Scottish Government’s website.
Local authority websites will be updated next Tuesday to allow applications to be made, and it will be possible for businesses to apply at any time in the two weeks after that.
I would encourage all eligible businesses who need support to apply. There is after all an important principle here.
Many businesses are being required to take drastic action to help us to tackle Covid. And so it is essential that we take significant action to help them too.
The new regulations on face coverings, and the availability of support for businesses, are the two immediate issues I wanted to highlight today.
But I also want to look ahead, briefly, to our approach to managing the virus in the weeks and months to come.
Last week we introduced tough temporary restrictions affecting hospitality in particular.
The regulations giving effect to the temporary restrictions on hospitality are due to expire on 26 October.
However, it is important to stress - though I believe everyone already understands this point - that given the ongoing challenge of Covid, that will not herald a return to normality.
The restrictions on household gatherings, for example, will remain in place until it is considered safe to ease them.
And more generally, we intend to replace the temporary restrictions with a new strategic approach to managing the pandemic.
Part of this new strategic approach will set out the different tiers or levels of intervention and restrictions which may be applied in future – either locally or across Scotland - depending on how the virus is spreading.
When we publish this new framework - which will then of course be subject to debate and decision by Parliament - we will indicate, based on the latest advice from the National Incident Management Team and from our clinical advisers, what level of intervention should apply to each part of the country when the temporary restrictions end on 26 October.
The tiered approach to intervention will clearly be a central part of the new strategic framework - however, I want to stress that the framework will go beyond that.
It will also seek to strengthen and improve the effectiveness of measures which we currently have in place, to strengthen our resilience to live with this virus for the period ahead.
For example it will set out our work to improve compliance with the FACTS advice, with a particular focus on supporting people to self-isolate when asked to do so by Test & Protect.
It will also outline the support we will make available in future for businesses if they are required to close.
It will describe how we will continue to support people on low incomes – for whom the COVID restrictions can have especially harsh impacts.
And it will draw on the conclusions of our ongoing review of our Testing Strategy. It will set out our future projections of testing capacity and also the clinical decisions that we have reached on how that capacity can be most effectively used to suppress the virus through the winter months.
In the week ahead, we intend to share and discuss the provisional content of the strategic framework with other parties.
That cross party engagement will include the offer to party leaders of a detailed briefing session with myself, the Health Secretary and the government’s key clinical and technical advisers early next week.
Mike Russell is also facilitating discussions on how parliament as a whole can better scrutinise – not just this forthcoming framework - but future changes to Covid regulations more generally.
A global pandemic of an infectious virus will often require emergency action and quick legislation. But as we prepare to live with Covid for an extended period, we recognise that this imperative must be balanced by the need for robust and, whenever possible, pre-emptive parliamentary scrutiny.
We therefore intend to work across the chamber, and across wider society, to ensure we get this balance right in the weeks and months ahead.
One of the reasons why that is so important, is precisely because we are at such a critical and precarious point in our journey through this pandemic.
Scotland has already acted first among the nations of the UK in applying tough restrictions.
We have done so at a time when our levels of Covid – although far too high for comfort – are actually lower than in the other UK nations.
I believe and expect that this will make a difference.
But although we have put in place tough measures, we cannot rule out having to go further in the future.
For example, the approach to travel being adopted by the Welsh Government to mitigate spread of the virus from high to low prevalence areas not just within each of the four UK nations but also where necessary between the four UK nations, needs to be considered here too and is being considered here too.
So as we consider these issues, plan future steps and, where necessary, take emergency action, we will seek to ensure that Parliament is fully informed and involved in these decisions.
The final points I want to make today are about context, perspective and individual agency.
And I make these points to acknowledge - not in any way to minimise - what we are all going through right now.
I am acutely aware that, as we enter winter with tough restrictions still in place, and mounting worries for many about jobs and livelihoods, it can be hard to escape feelings of despair and helplessness.
But I want to encourage everyone to hold on to some key truths and to the hope that comes from these.
Firstly, this pandemic will not last forever. It will pass and we will, hopefully soon, be able to foresee a time when we can start to talk about it in the past tense.
Second, we are not alone, either as a country, or as individuals. This is a global pandemic. Countries across the world are going through exactly the same as we are going through – and they are taking the same decisions Scotland is being forced to take.
Here in the UK, Northern Ireland has introduced tough new curbs in the past 48 hours, reflecting the very high prevalence of the virus there.
Additional restrictions are being introduced in parts of England. And as I mentioned, Wales is introducing further restrictions on travel.
Across Europe, restrictions on hospitality and other facets of everyday life have been reintroduced in Belgium, the Netherlands, France, Spain, Germany, Ireland and many other countries as well. Governments and populations around the world are wrestling with how to tackle and live with this virus, and we must try to learn from each other.
And here at home, I know many are struggling with feelings of loneliness, isolation, and anxiety, but support - both practical and emotional - is available if you need it. You can find details of it on the NHS Inform website.
And as we deal with the difficult few months that lie ahead, let’s all remember to be kinder to each other than we might normally be. Look out for people. Offer help if you can and remember this is no ones fault
Our experiences are different, I know, but this pandemic is something we are all living through. None of us are exempt from the impact and we are all finding it hard.
So let’s try to help each other as much as we possibly can. I know it can sound clichéd, but I will make no apology for saying that love, kindness and solidarity are more important now than ever before.
Even just a smile and a kind word can help make a tough day slightly better. So never, ever, underestimate the difference we can all make in ways large and small to help each other through this difficult period.
And, thirdly, remember this, although we can’t magic it away, unfortunately, or guarantee that we won’t get it or pass it on, none of us are powerless against this virus, we can all, we must all, act and behave in ways that will help stop it in its tracks.
That will make us safer as individuals, and will also protect our loved ones, our wider communities, and the NHS and it will save lives.
So as difficult and frustrating as I know it is, please abide but all the rules and guidance that is in place for our individual and collective protection.
And remember FACTS:
- face coverings protect other people, and help other people protect you
- avoiding places with crowds of people also protects you and others
- cleaning your hands and surfaces does that too
- keeping 2 metre distance from people in other households reduces the chances of the virus spreading from over person to another
- and self isolating and getting a test if you have symptoms will break the chains of transmission too.
Now, more than ever, it is vital for all of us to follow all of this advice. To do everything we can to beat Covid back.
By doing so, we will protect ourselves, protect those we love and protect our communities. We will help our NHS care for those who need it. And, above all, we will save lives.
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