Coronavirus (COVID-19) update: First Minister's speech 18 September 2020

Statement given by the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at a media briefing in St Andrew's House, Edinburgh on Friday 18 September.

I can report that the total number of positive cases that were reported yesterday was 203. This represents 4.4% of people newly tested and takes the total number of cases now to 23,776.

Let me remind you again that these are positive cases reported yesterday.

Because of the processing backlog we have been dealing with, which as I said yesterday is improving, more of these than normal may be from swabs taken over the past few days.

However, as I’ve also said before, when we look at whether case numbers are rising or not, we look at results by the date the sample was taken, not just the reporting date - so the backlog doesn’t distort our trend analysis.

The full regional breakdown will be published later as normal, but I can confirm now that 69 of the 203 cases are in Greater Glasgow and Clyde, 30 in Lothian, and 29 in Lanarkshire.  The remaining 75 are across the other 8 mainland health board areas.

I can also confirm that 61 people are in hospital – which is an increase of 9 on yesterday. 5 people are in intensive care, which is the same as yesterday. And finally, I regret to say that in the past 24 hours, one additional death was registered of a patient who first tested positive over the previous 28 days.

That means that the total number of deaths, under this daily measurement, is now 2,502.

This is a reminder that we are again reporting deaths, albeit small numbers, on a regular basis again.

That’s an indication that in Scotland, as elsewhere, Covid is accelerating again, and I will say more about that shortly.

But I want once again to pass on my condolences to everybody who has lost a loved one to this illness – including of course, those  grieving as a result of the death that was registered yesterday.

I’m joined today by our National Clinical Director Jason Leitch.  After my remarks, Jason will say a few words about the news this morning that an Edinburgh Rugby Academy player has tested positive for Covid.

Before that, though, here are a few items I want to cover.

The first let me briefly highlight an announcement that was made by the Scottish Government last night.

We have added two additional places to the list of those that are subject to quarantine restrictions.  Those are Slovenia and Guadeloupe.

That means that from tomorrow, people travelling to Scotland from these countries must self-isolate for 14 days, upon their return or arrival in Scotland. And it is very important that people comply with that.

By contrast, Singapore and Thailand were removed from the international list.

So anyone arriving from either of these countries, from tomorrow, no longer has to quarantine. However, if you have arrived from Singapore or Thailand in the past few days, you do need to complete your 14 days of isolation.

This is all a further reminder of how quickly levels of the virus – in any country or area – can change. So I’ll say again, please avoid non-essential overseas travel at the moment, if possible.

Indeed, please think carefully about non-essential travel at home, as well. In particular, avoid travelling to parts of the UK, that are under tougher restrictions right now because  levels of Covid are rising fastest.

The main thing I want to do today is to take a moment to take stock of where the country stands right now in the pandemic.

We are seeing increasing numbers of places both here in Scotland and across the rest of the UK that are under local and regional restrictions. And, many will have woken up this morning to hear the news of the potential for new national restrictions.

The bottom line here is that the virus is on the rise again.

Our case numbers are not yet rising as fast as there were back in March. But they are rising again and they are rising quite rapidly.  The percentage of tests coming back positive is also not anywhere near as high as it was back in March, but again it is rising.

And as I reported yesterday, the R number we believe is now above 1.

Across the UK, and this is particularly the case in England right now,  hospital admissions are rising. ICU admissions are rising too. While this is particularly the case in England right now, this should sound a warning signal for us here in Scotland too.

And, while for the last few weeks, people might have taken comfort from the low levels of older, more vulnerable people contracting the virus, I have to say to you that picture is also beginning to change.

Recent data shows that the percentage of cases in the older population is now beginning to rise as well.

Looking more widely, we can observe that in broad terms we might now be, at an earlier stage, on a similar path to that which has been taken in recent weeks by France.

About four weeks ago, France stood broadly where we do today.

But now they face around 10,000 new cases per day and hundreds of people in ICU and deaths in France are already rising now as well.

So our task is to make sure – if we can – that we interrupt that, and we don’t end up where they are now.

What lies behind this is a simple reality: we are facing the risk again of exponential growth in Covid.

And we all know from our experience earlier this year what that looks like, and why it is so important to seek to avoid  it.

So, I want to talk briefly about what we need to do.

First and foremost, we need to act to interrupt that exponential growth. No one wants to see another full-scale lockdown.

And, above all, we want to keep schools and childcare open because we know how important that is to the education but also to the broader well-being of children and young people.

So right now, and I mean right now, today, over the weekend and into next week, that means following all of the rules and the advice currently in place.

Work from home if you can, that remains our advice. As I said a moment ago, avoid if you can non-essential travel. Don’t meet up with any more than six people from a maximum  of two households, indoors and outdoors.

If you live in Glasgow, as I do, or in East or West Dunbartonshire, Renfrewshire or East Renfrewshire, North or South Lanarkshire, don’t visit other households at all, unless you have to visit to care for or deliver shopping to a vulnerable person.

The fact is we know, and this is one of the things we have learned about this virus, is that when it gets into a household, it is very likely to infect everyone in that household.

So to be blunt, we must do everything we can to keep it out of our households. When we do have to interact with others, the last piece of advice I want to remind you of right now, is to remember to follow FACTS: all of the basic things that help us reduce the risks of transmitting the virus.

These are the current rules and I am asking everybody to please abide by them strictly and rigorously.  But it may well be that if we are to interrupt  and break this growth, we will have to do more over the next few weeks. And this weekend will be critical in the assessment of how best to do that.

As widely reported, SAGE met yesterday. I have chaired a meeting of senior Scottish Government officials and advisors this morning to assess the current situation and discussions across the 4 nations of the UK will, I hope, take place in the coming days. I’ve this morning asked the Prime Minister to convene a COBRA meeting over this weekend.

So, I am today giving the nation advance notice, that the coming days are likely to see some hard but necessary decisions.

If we want to avoid another full-scale lockdown, which all of us do, doing nothing almost certainly isn’t an option.

Now I will of course, as I have sought to do throughout this pandemic, keep you regularly and fully updated. But for now, over this weekend, please rigorously follow all of the current rules and all of the current advice.

Now there is another issue that I want to update you on, another area where some of us may be able to help in the fight against this virus, and it involves Scotland’s involvement in the UK-wide COVID Infection Survey.

The survey is designed to track the spread and prevalence of the virus in the general population. It is conducted by the Office for National Statistics, and the University of Oxford.  And following a successful pilot in England, it has been expanded to other parts of the UK.

In Scotland, it will ultimately see up to 15,000 people being tested, every fortnight.  Households will be randomly selected for the survey.  And over the coming period, these households will all be sent a letter, inviting them to participate.

Those letters will provide details on how to register.  The first of them should be arriving today.  And from Monday, survey teams will begin visiting households that agree to take part.

Those who do take part will be asked to administer swabs to their throats and noses, to test for the virus.  People aged 12 years or older can take the swab themselves – but parents and carers should administer them for younger children.  A subset of participants – over the age of 16 – will also be invited to provide blood samples, to test whether they have already have had Covid.

Participants will be asked to take further tests every week for the first 5 weeks, then every month for up to a year.  Members of the survey team will visit households, to collect the tests.

These results will help us to see how many people are infected with the virus at a given point in time - whether ot not they have symptoms.

And they will give us a sense of how many people are ever likely to have had the infection. They should therefore provide us with really important new insights into the spread of Covid in Scotland.

The survey will also provide additional data on the characteristics of those who are testing positive and so it will help us to examine any difference in the impact of the virus, on different groups in society.

The initial survey results for Scotland should be available in November.  But that is dependent, and that is why I am raising it today, on people’s willingness to sign up.   So if you receive a letter, and you are able to do so, I encourage you to take part in this survey, it is really important and it will be a vital tool in our efforts to understand the virus and therefore equip ourselves better to know the things to keep it under control.

Now to close today, I want to really  come back to emphasise my earlier point and really emphasise to you that we are at another really critical point.

Covid-19 is on the rise.  Not just here in Scotland, it is on the rise in the UK and across Europe.

Just yesterday, the World Health Organization warned that weekly cases across Europe, have now topped 300,000. 

That’s higher than it was in March – when the virus first peaked.

As the WHO has said, that must serve as a wake-up call for all of us.  The virus could get out of our grip again. That’s the news that should be the wake-up call.

The better news is that hasn’t happened yet: we do still have time to prevent it happening, and that is down to Government to take a lead and be very clear and decisive in what we have to do, but it also ultimately comes down to all of us. So before I hand over to Jason, I want remind all you watching, and to ask you to remind others,  of what we need you to do.

If you live in Glasgow; East or West Dunbartonshire; Renfrewshire or East Renfrewshire; North or South Lanarkshire, please don’t visit any other households anywhere in Scotland. 

In the rest of the country, please do not meet with more than 6 people, from a maximum of 2 households.  Don’t give the virus an opportunity to spread between households, because if it spreads between households we know it quickly spreads within households.

Download the Protect Scotland app, if you haven’t already done so. A million people have done so, already. We know that will help make a difference

And finally – in everything you do – lets all follow the FACTS.  These are the five golden rules that help all us of us minimise the risk of transmission:

  • Face coverings in enclosed spaces
  • Avoid crowded places.
  • Clean hands and clean all hard surfaces that you are touching regularly
  • keep two metres away from people other households.
  • and self isolate, and book a test, if you have symptoms.

We are at a critical point right now, but as I said in one of these briefings a couple of days ago, nothing is inevitable. We all have power to try and stop this virus running out of control again.

I know the responsibility that is on the shoulders of me and the government here to take the hard decisions that will determine whether we succeed or not.

But as I have said, so many times throughout,  this is down to all of us. We are all in this together and it is only by acting together that we can stop it running out of control and ultimately save lives.

My thanks again to everybody who I know are making all sorts of sacrifices to help us do that. Keep spreading the word to everyone you know.

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