Good afternoon everybody. Thank you for joining us.
I want to start – as I always do – by updating you on some of the key statistics in relation to Covid-19 in Scotland.
As at 9 o’clock this morning, there have been 14,655 positive cases confirmed - an increase of 61 from yesterday.
A total of 1,447 patients are in hospital with Covid-19 – 969 who have been confirmed as having the virus, and 478 who are suspected of having Covid. That represents a total increase of 20 from yesterday, but within that a decrease of 36 in the number of confirmed cases.
A total of 59 people last night were in intensive care with either confirmed or suspected Covid 19. That is a decrease of 4 since yesterday.
I am also able to confirm today that since 5 March, a total of 3,408 patients who had tested positive for the virus have been able to leave hospital.
Unfortunately though I also have to report that in the last 24 hours, 29 deaths have been registered of patients who had been confirmed through a test as having Covid-19 – that takes the total number of deaths in Scotland, under that measurement, to 2,134. Tomorrow we will have the latest publication from National Records of Scotland, which include not only people that have died having tested positive but all those deaths where Covid-19 has been mentioned on a death certificate.
As always, I want to send my deepest condolences to everyone who has lost and is grieving for a loved one as a result of this virus.
I also want to thank – as I always do - our health and care workers. The whole of the country continues to be very grateful to you for the extraordinary work that you are doing in these very challenging circumstances.
I have two items I want to briefly update on today.
The first relates to the publication this morning of the latest employment figures in Scotland. These are for the period from January to March of this year. These are the first figures that include any of the period of the Covid-19 crisis.
They show that 113,000 people in Scotland are now unemployed – that is up from just under 100,000 in the previous three months.
That is an unemployment rate of 4.1%. Now, by historical standards, that actually is still a relatively low rate but of course it is important to stress that these figures, since they only extend up to the end of March, do not reflect the full economic impact of the pandemic.
They undoubtedly further demonstrate the need to carefully get our economy moving again as quickly as we are able to do that safely. And they underline the continuing need for government action to support the economy, and to help people keep their jobs or to enter or re-enter the workforce.
We know that the essential public health measures that we have had to take to deal with what is a public health emergency, are in themselves creating an economic emergency and that will have impact on people’s jobs, living standards and inequalities in our society.
And although the Job Retention Scheme has offered some relief to many employers and employees, I am very aware that many people will be deeply concerned about the future of their livelihoods.
That is why we have already allocated more than £2.3 billion to support businesses and protect livelihoods, and it is why we have welcomed so warmly many of the measures taken by the UK Government –including the Job Retention scheme.
In addition, Skills Development Scotland – as I discussed last week – has expanded its support for people seeking training or employment by establishing a phoneline and online service. The new online service - which highlights links to free courses which are available - has received 120,000 visits since it launched just over three weeks ago.
Today we are taking further action to tackle the employment challenge created by Covid.
Our Enterprise and Skills Strategic Board – which was first established 2 ½ years ago – will co-ordinate rapid action across our enterprise and skills agencies.
In doing so, it will ensure that our actions, now, are helping to equip people with the skills they need for the future. It will report back to us in June on what additional measures we need to take.
However I can confirm today that we will be investing a further £33 million to support people back to work as we gradually get the economy opened up again.
This initial funding – most of which will be allocated to Fair Start Scotland, our devolved employability service - will have a particular focus on helping those most adversely affected in times of economic downturn - which are young people, disabled people and lone parents.
Today’s announcement is one further action amongst many in our efforts to tackle the economic impacts of this crisis, but it is, I think, an important one.
We know all too well from previous recessions that the longer people stay jobless, the greater the chance of further impacts – their skills can deteriorate, their confidence can fall, and that in turn can have an impact on future prospects. We also know that these effects are of course bad for individuals – especially young people – and that they are also damaging for the economy as a whole. And that means that when an upturn comes, when the economy starts to recover, employers can find it more difficult to hire the people they need.
For all of these reasons, we are determined to do everything we can to protect Scotland’s workforce; to minimise – as far as we can - the increase in unemployment; and to ensure that we are ready for a sustainable recovery. Today’s actions represent a further step in helping us to do that.
The second issue I want to talk about relates to the fact that this week is Mental Health Awareness Week. This year’s theme is kindness.
In many ways that’s especially appropriate right now. Kindness should, I think, be one of the core values of any good society. And, as I suspect most of us have experienced in recent weeks, even small acts of kindness can make a huge difference to the way someone is feeling.
We have been aware throughout this crisis of the impact that Covid-19, and our lockdown measures, are likely to have on people’s mental health.
That is why we have expanded NHS 24’s telephone and online services to support mental health; it’s why we established a National Wellbeing Hub to support the mental health of NHS and social care staff; and it’s also why we launched the “Clear Your Head” campaign, which you may have seen in the media.
Clear Your Head provides practical advice on how to stay active, keep connected with friends and family, and create healthy routines to help get through this crisis.
Today we are making a further investment to support the mental health and wellbeing of parents and carers in particular.
Solihull Online is a programme that helps parents and carers to learn about what their child may be going through, and developing nurturing and supportive relationships. From today, all parents and carers in Scotland will have access to the programme and if you are interested in this you can find more information by going to ParentClub.scot.
The final point I want to make, is that one of the most important things to remember during Mental Health Awareness Week, is that it’s okay not to feel okay – and that help is available.
You can speak to someone if you need to, and I would encourage you to do so. The Clear Your Head website – clearyourhead.scot – brings together our information about support that is available for mental health.
So please have a look at the website during the Awareness Week. And please, continue, as far as all of us can, to show kindness to each other as we try get through this crisis together.
Before I hand over to the CMO, I want to emphasise once again our key public health measures.
As is said yesterday, on Thursday this week we will publish a routemap, setting how on a phased basis, we will ease the lockdown while continuing to suppress the virus.
My hope and intention is that we will take the first concrete steps on that journey next week.
But, we will increase both the likelihood and the extent of that by sticking to the rules now.
Please stay at home except for essential purposes- such as daily exercise, going to essential work that you can’t do from home, or buying essential items.
You can now exercise more than once a day – but when you do leave home, stay more than 2 metres away from others. And do not meet up with people from other households.
Please think about wearing a face covering if you are in a shop or on public transport. And remember to wash your hands thoroughly and regularly.
Finally, if you or someone else in your household has symptoms of Covid-19, then you should stay at home completely. Those symptoms are a high temperature, a persistent cough, or now a change or loss of smell or taste.
For now, these restrictions do remain essential.
They are helping us to slow down the spread of the virus, to protect the NHS, and to save lives.
So thank you once again, to everyone, for your cooperation.
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