Good afternoon, and thank you for joining us today.
I’ll start – as I always do – with an update of some key statistics in relation to COVID-19.
As at 9 o’clock this morning, there have been 18,045 positive cases confirmed – you will recall that since yesterday, this total now includes data from UK wide testing sites. That is an increase of 15 overall from the figures yesterday.
A total of 986 patients are in hospital with confirmed or suspected COVID-19. Now, that represents a total increase of 116 from yesterday – but let me stress that includes a reduction of 11 in the number of confirmed cases.
A total of 19 people last night were in intensive care with either confirmed or suspected COVID-19 and that that is an increase of 1 since yesterday.
I am also able to confirm today that since the 5 March, a total of 3,929 patients who had tested positive and previously required hospital treatment have now been discharged from hospital
However, in the last 24 hours, 5 deaths were registered of a patient confirmed through a test as having COVID-19 – the total number of deaths in Scotland, under that measurement, is therefore now 2,453. Tomorrow of course we’ll see the weekly publications from National Records of Scotland which gives us the total number of deaths of those confirmed through a test and of those who are suspected of having had COVID-19.
Once again I want to send my deepest condolences to everyone who has lost a loved one as a result of this virus and is currently grieving one of the unique human beings who lie behind these statistics.
Let me always as usual express my thanks to our health and care workers and indeed to all our key workers, for the everything you continue to do in very challenging circumstances.
As well as the Chief Medical Officer, I am joined today by Fiona Hyslop - the Cabinet Secretary for the Economy, Fair Work and Culture – since the main focus for today’s remarks is the economy.
This morning, the latest labour market statistics for Scotland were published, they covered the period from February to April. April was of course the first full month of lockdown restrictions.
Today’s figures show that – when compared to the three months from November to January - unemployment in Scotland increased from 97,000 to 127,000. The unemployment rate during this period increased from 3.5% to 4.6%, and the employment rate fell from 74.9% to 74.3%.
Now I should stress, this is a sample survey. Fraser of Allander Institute reminded us that we have to be cautious about what we conclude from it.
However, we do know that the protection of the Job Retention scheme will mean that these figures are likely to be an underestimate of the full impact of COVID-19 on business activity.
And secondly because they cover only until April they don’t give us a fully up to date picture.
The statistics that were also published this morning on claimant count for May give us a more up to date indication, even though it’s important to stress that they are experimental. They suggest that the claimant count in Scotland in May was 7.8% - which is the same level as the UK as a whole.
However what all of this data undoubtedly demonstrates is that dealing with the public health crisis of COVID-19, has created an economic crisis that demands our full focus and attention.
I know increasing economic anxiety will lead some to argue for a quicker than planned exit from lockdown and I absolutely understand that.
But, difficult though as all of this is, we must guard against a reckless relaxation of lockdown measures. If we ease restrictions too quickly – and allow the virus to run out of control again – that would be economically counterproductive, but it would also cost many more lives.
Indeed, the progress we have made in suppressing the virus – progress which was evident once again in the figures I reported today - is an essential foundation for the sustainable economic recovery we want to secure.
And the key point is this - the more we can suppress the virus now, the more normality we can restore as we do re-open the economy and society. And the more able we will be to cope with any resurgence of the virus - either from sporadic outbreaks like the one China is dealing with now, or increased transmission as we face the winter period and the flu season.
However all of that said, Scotland does like many countries around the world does face the challenge of opening up our economy in a way which is safe and sustainable.
On Thursday, I will announce the outcome of our review into lockdown restrictions and, I hope and expect, that on Thursday we will be able to confirm a move from Phase 1 to Phase 2 of our plan for reopening the economy and lifting restrictions more generally.
This does not mean that all major changes will happen overnight.
But I do hope that in the coming weeks, further important restrictions will be lifted so that workers can return to factories – with strict hygiene and physical distancing measures in place; so that the construction industry will continue its own restart plan; and so that non-essential retail businesses can have a date for safe reopening.
Now none of this will restore the economy immediately to full health, but it will be a significant, and a sustainable, improvement on our current position and that of course is important.
That gradual re-emergence from lockdown is crucial. That is how we allow our businesses to get back to operate and make money again. But we know that because the emergence by necessity is gradual, it must also be accompanied by continued support for business as business seeks to recover.
We have welcomed assistance from the UK Government, such as the Job Retention Scheme, but it is essential that this scheme is extended if proves necessary, which I think it almost certainly does, and we are making this case to the UK government
In addition, the Scottish Government has provided £2.3 billion of support for business – for example through domestic rates relief – a sum which more than matches the total we received through UK Government consequentials.
Today I can confirm two additional measures to promote economic recovery in the immediate term.
Later today Kate Forbes, the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, will set out to Parliament details of a further £230 million of support for the economy.
Among other things, this package will fund maintenance for further and higher education facilities and for roads; it will help public transport to prepare for physical distancing measures; and it will include a further investment in companies of high potential, and in developments such as Ravenscraig, Edinburgh Bioquarter and the Michelin site in Dundee.
It will support, and is designed to support, projects which can provide an immediate boost to jobs and growth, while also helping to prepare our economy and our public services for the future.
We are also providing further support today for skills and training.
During this crisis, the Scottish Government has already invested additional money in services such as Fair Start Scotland – and I have said standing here on previous occasions, Skills Development Scotland has expanded some of its support for people who are looking for training and employment.
Today we are making individual training accounts available to people who are out of work, or on low incomes.
Last year, these accounts helped more than 18,000 people to develop new skills and to take up new positions. This year, we are adapting them to respond to emerging labour market challenges.
From July, they will offer access to online training in areas such as computing and IT, construction, early years provision and care.
Initially, we expect to release 14,000 accounts –with more becoming available later in the year. Further details of the courses will be available on the “My World of Work” website.
I know that not everyone who is eligible will be able to take advantage of this. If you have care responsibilities, or have volunteered to help others – time to train and study will be pretty limited.
But for some people – especially, but not exclusively, people who are currently furloughed on a relatively low income, or have been made unemployed - it does makes sense to develop new skills at this time. The learning accounts will offer a further way of supporting people who want to do that, as we seek to emerge from lockdown.
The other issue I want to talk about today is free school meals, and emergency food support more generally.
Free school meals are currently being made available to around 175,000 children across Scotland - either within local authority and early years premises which are still open, or more often through direct cash payments, supermarket vouchers, or the direct supply of food or meals. I can confirm that this provision will be extended throughout the summer holiday period.
We know families are under considerable financial pressure just now and free school meals are a vital help to many but they are also important to the health and well-being of many children.
So we will provide £12.6 million in funding for Local Authorities to enable the continuation of free school meals during the period from the end of June to the start of the new term in August. The funding will be allocated in a way that allows councils – as many of them currently do – to co-ordinate school meal provision with wider support they may be making available to families.
In addition, we are making £15 million available to councils, to maintain some of that wider support - in particular, the support for food which is currently available for people in severe poverty, people who face other barriers to getting food, and people who are being asked to isolate under the new Test and Protect system
Our support for those who are shielding - which I should say, comes from a different budget - is also of course being maintained.
At a time when – as the employment figures today show – many families will be finding it harder than normal to make ends meet - I hope that these announcements provide some reassurance, during a extremely difficult time.
Before I hand over to the Cabinet Secretary, I want to close by emphasising our key public health guidance. Following this guidance now remains crucial to keeping the virus under control, and allowing us to reopen the economy and to emerge from lockdown on a firm and sustainable basis.
You should still be staying home as much as possible, and still be meeting fewer people than normal.
Let me remind you, when you do meet people from another household, please stay outdoors, and you must stay 2 metres apart from them.
Don’t meet with more than one other household at a time, don’t meet more than one a day – and please keep to a maximum of 8 people in a group.
Please wash your hands often.
Wear a face covering when you are in shops or on public transport or in any enclosed space where physical distancing is a bit more difficult.
Avoid touching hard surfaces - and clean any you do touch.
And remember this will be important for some time to come.
If you have the symptoms of COVID-19 – a fever; a new cough; or a loss of, or change, in your sense of taste or smell – please book a test immediately, and follow the advice on self-isolation and you can book a test at the NHS inform website.
By doing the right thing, and by sticking to these rules, we are saving lives. We are suppressing the virus.
And by continuing to do that, we are giving ourselves a much stronger opportunity to take both further and also firmer steps out of lockdown.
So my thanks, once again, to all of you for doing all of the right thing.
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