Coronavirus (COVID-19) update: First Minister's speech 21 May 2020

Statement given by the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to the Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh on Thursday 21 May. 

Presiding Officer,

The Scottish Government has just published a route map to take Scotland through and out of the Covid crisis.

It provides information about how and when we might ease the lockdown restrictions, while continuing to suppress the virus. And it provides us with some indication of what our journey to a new normal might look like.

The route map is, for ease of access, high level. But it will be supplemented in the days ahead with detailed advice and information for the public, as well as guidance covering key sectors of our economy, travel and transport.

In publishing this route map, we confront a fundamental issue. The lockdown restrictions have been absolutely necessary to mitigate the massive harm caused by the Covid-19 virus. However the lockdown is creating harms of its own - loneliness and social isolation, deepening inequalities and serious damage to our economy. 

None of us want it to last any longer than it has to.

So today we are setting out the phases in which we will aim to ease lockdown and reduce the impact on all of us - individuals, families, communities and businesses.

The steps we will take are by necessity gradual and incremental - and they must also be matched with rigorous, ongoing monitoring of the virus. 

There is no completely risk free way of lifting lockdown. But we must mitigate the risks as much as we can. And we must not at any stage act rashly or recklessly.

For all our progress, this virus has not gone away. It continues to pose a significant threat to health. And if we move too quickly or without proper care, it could run out of control again very quickly.

And the danger of a second wave later in the year is very real indeed.

We mustn’t forget any of that.

At every stage, though, the biggest single factor in controlling the virus, will be how well we all continue to observe public health advice. 

Continued high compliance with the restrictions that are in place at any time, together with hand washing, cough hygiene and physical distancing will continue to be essential, as will wearing a face covering where appropriate.

And we must understand and accept what a Test, Trace, Isolate system will require of all of us.

Each of us will have an ongoing responsibility to protect ourselves and to protect each other.

I want to do three things in today’s statement.

First, give an update on where we are now in our efforts to control the virus.

Second, set out the initial ways in which lockdown restrictions are likely to be eased, from the end of next week.

And, finally, discuss possible future steps – and the approach we will take in deciding which ones to take, and when.

But let me stress now that the nature of what we are dealing with means these proposals cannot be set in stone.

We will conduct formal reviews at least every three weeks to assess if and to what extent we can move from one phase to the next, but we will be constantly alive to when we can go faster, or indeed whether we have gone too far. 

It may be that we can’t do everything in a particular phase at the same time. A single phase may span more than one review period. Some measures may be lifted earlier than planned and some later.

And, of course, our plans will change if the data, evidence or indeed our understanding of the virus changes.  We also welcome views on these plans, including, of course, from other parties. In addition, I would encourage members of the public to read the route map at and let us know your views. This crisis affects all of us, and how we emerge from it safely matters deeply to all of us.

In setting out where we are now, I will give an update on the daily statistics, before putting the data we now have into a broader context.

In doing that, I want to thank – as I always do - our health and care workers for the extraordinary work they are doing in incredibly testing circumstances.

As at 9 o’clock this morning, there have been 14, 856 positive cases confirmed – that is an increase of 105 from yesterday.

A total of 1,318 patients are in hospital with Covid-19 – 909 of them who have been confirmed as having the virus, and 409 who are suspected of having Covid. That represents a total decrease of 125 from yesterday, including a decrease of 34 in the number of confirmed cases.

A total of 51 people last night were in intensive care with confirmed or suspected Covid 19. That is a decrease of 2 from yesterday.

And unfortunately I also have to report that in the past 24 hours, 37 deaths have been registered of patients who had been confirmed through a test as having the virus – and that takes the total number of deaths in Scotland, under that measurement, to 2,221.

These numbers – together with yesterday’s figures from National Records of Scotland - spell out very starkly the human cost of this virus.

These are not simply statistics - they all represent individuals whose loss is a source of grief to many. And I want to send my deepest condolences to everyone who has lost a loved one to this virus.

However the numbers also make clear, as I indicated yesterday, that our efforts to curb covid-19 have had an impact. Our mid-range estimate for the number of infectious people in Scotland is now 25,000 – however we expect that number to decrease further.

We are now seeing significant and sustained reductions in the number of confirmed Covid patients in hospital. The number of Covid patients in intensive care is now less than a quarter of what it was at its peak.

And yesterday’s National Records of Scotland data showed that Covid deaths have now fallen for three consecutive weeks – last week’s total was just over half the figure that was reported for the last full week of April.

We are also publishing today a paper which sets out the methods we use for calculating the R number – the rate at which the virus is reproducing. We will now publish our up to date estimate of the R number each Thursday.

Our latest estimate is that the R number remains between 0.7 and 1. In March, it was probably above 4.

And it’s worth saying that although these figures do indicate real progress, we cannot and must not be complacent. Progress remains fragile and it would be too easy for the virus to run out of control again.

The total number of Covid deaths – 351 last week alone – is still far too high. And although we estimate that the R number is below 1, the range has not changed this week, and there is still uncertainty about just how far below 1 it is. It may also still be slightly above other parts of the UK.

However we now have some confidence that the R number has been below 1 for more than 3 weeks, and that there has been a reduction in new cases and in the impact of the virus. In my judgement, therefore, the time is right to move towards a careful relaxation of lockdown restrictions - but, as I will say in a moment, we must do so on a timescale that aligns with our development of test, trace and isolate.

Today’s route map explains the framework we are using for that relaxation - and sets out future steps people can expect to see, and in what order.

It is based firmly on the criteria set by the World Health Organisation, and it takes account of the experiences of other countries.

A key aspect of our strategy – as recommended by the WHO - is the “test, trace, isolate, support” approach, which will operate in Scotland as “Test and Protect”.

We will test anyone who has symptoms consistent with COVID-19 and ask them to isolate.

We will use contact tracing to identify the close contacts of positive cases.

We will ask those close contacts to self-isolate, so that if they do develop the disease, there is less risk that they will pass it on to others.

And we will make sure that support is available to those who need it.

We will also carry out ongoing surveillance and furnish the public with up to date information about transmission rates and significant clusters.

That system of test and protect run by NHS Scotland is already being used on a case by case basis. From the end of this month it will be available, on an expanded basis, in every health board across the country.

That timescale gives us added confidence that we can take the first, careful steps on our journey out of lockdown from next week.

Test and Protect will be a crucial tool in controlling this virus. However, it will be most effective if we continue to suppress the virus, so that the number of infections reduces further.

And that is why our emergence from lockdown must be gradual and phased.

Today’s route map outlines four phases in emerging from the Covid crisis beyond the current lockdown phase, and it covers nine key aspects of our lives - seeing friends and family; travel and getting around; education and childcare; work, business and the economy; shopping and leisure; sport and culture; public gatherings and special occasions; communities and public services; and health and social care.

We are legally required to review the lockdown restrictions every three weeks. The next review date is next Thursday, 28th May.

Providing that we continue to make progress in tackling Covid over the next week and, in particular, see no regression in our progress so far, I can confirm that the government intends to move from lockdown to phase 1 - and thereby lift some restrictions - from 28th May.

As we enter later phases – as and when the evidence allows – more restrictions will be removed. Details of the relevant criteria to be met and restrictions to be eased in each phase are set out in the document.

I’m sure that everyone watching will want to know what changes will be made as we move to phase 1.

But first, a word of caution - not every phase 1 measure will necessarily be introduced immediately on 28th May. Some may be introduced a few days after that and, depending on the evidence, it is possible that some may have to be postponed - though I very much hope that won’t be the case.

But next week, when we have completed our formal review, we will make clear  exactly what changes we are making and when, and ensure that detailed information is available for the public.

However let me set out some of the likely changes in phase 1.

More outdoor activity will be permitted.

You will be able to sit or sunbathe in parks and open areas, and you will be able to meet people from one other household, although initially in small numbers, while you are outside. This is a change which we hope will benefit everyone, but particularly those without gardens, and people who live on their own.

It is important to stress that different households should remain two metres apart from each other – that is critical in ensuring that this change doesn’t provide the virus with easy routes of transmission.

And because of the much higher risk of indoor transmission, visiting inside each others’ houses will not be permitted in phase 1.

Some non-contact outdoor leisure activities will be allowed to restart - such as golf, tennis, bowls and fishing - subject of course to appropriate hygiene and physical distancing.

In addition, people will be able to travel – preferably by walking or cycling - to a location near their local community for recreation. Although, we are asking people where possible to stay within or close to their own local area.

Waste and recycling services will resume, as will many outdoor businesses, such as agriculture and forestry.

The construction industry will be able to carefully implement steps 1 and 2 of its 6 step restart plan which it has developed with us. However, let me be clear that there must be genuine partnership with trade unions - this can only be done if it is done safely.

Other industries that are expected to resume in phase 2, will be permitted in the first phase to prepare workplaces for the safe return of workers and customers.

We will no longer discourage take-away and drive-through food outlets from reopening, as long as they apply safe physical distancing. Outdoor retail outlets such as garden centres will be allowed to reopen.

However, non-essential indoor shops, and indoor cafes, restaurants and pubs must remain closed in this first phase.

Some key community support services will resume – for example face to face Children’s Hearings will restart, using physical distancing, and people at risk will have more contact with social work and support services.

We are also planning a phased resumption of aspects of the criminal justice system.

And we will carefully and gradually resume NHS services which were paused as a result of this crisis.  I also want to remind people that as of now, you should contact your GP, NHS 24 or 999 if you need to. That message is really important.

These phase 1 measures – most of which have an outdoor focus - are not in place yet, let me stress that and they are dependent on all of us continuing to suppress the virus. They will also be monitored carefully as they do take effect.

However we view them as a proportionate and suitably cautious set of first steps. And I hope they will bring some improvement to people’s wellbeing and quality of life, start to get our economy moving again, and start to steer us safely towards a new normality.

It’s important to stress, though, that while the permitted reasons to be out of your house will increase, the default message during phase one will remain Stay at Home as much as possible.

As we move into subsequent phases, more restrictions will be removed. Details of these later phases - and the criteria we will need to meet - are set out in the document. We will make decisions on when and to what extent we can move to these phases carefully and on the basis of evidence. And we will carry out formal reviews at least every 3 weeks, though I hope we can move more quickly than that if the evidence allows.

Presiding Officer, I want to take a moment now to talk directly to people who are currently shielding – those we have asked to isolate completely for 12 weeks, because we know they are at the greatest risk from this virus.

We know that the isolation imposed by shielding over a long period of time is in itself very difficult and indeed harmful. And so, although we are not changing our advice on shielding yet, I can confirm that we will issue new guidance before the initial period of shielding ends on 18 June.

This will aim to increase your quality of life and your ability to make informed choices, while continuing to protect you as much as possible from the risks the virus poses. I really understand how hard this is for this for you who are shielding, and I want you to know that you are central to our thinking as we move forward, through and out of this crisis.

Presiding Officer, more generally, the route map sets out what phases 2, 3 and 4 will mean for different areas of activity.

It tries to give as definite sense as possible of when, and on what basis, we might be able to see friends and family, on something like a normal basis.

We also set out what the different phases will mean for transport – and I can confirm that we will publish a much more detailed transport transition plan on Tuesday next week.

We also outline the further stages in which businesses might reopen.  Let me stress that we want to move through these stages as quickly as the evidence allows. Getting the economy moving again really matters to all of us, and therefore we have sought to focus first on industries where people simply cannot work from home. However, safety and the confidence of employers, employees and customers is essential. And that is why detailed guidance for key sectors of the economy will follow in the days ahead.

Let me stress that we will continue to require for the foreseeable future home working where that is possible – and we will also encourage flexible working, including consideration of four day weeks for example.

We indicate the phases in which service industries might reopen – that is businesses such as restaurants, bars and hairdressers, the latter being a priority, I know, for almost every woman in the country and some men. For restaurants and bars, I think I’ll not go any further there Presiding Officer, for restaurants and bars, opening of outdoor spaces will come earlier than opening of indoor spaces.

The route map also indicates when places of worship might reopen.

And it makes it clear that while our current guidance on funerals – one of the most distressing and heartbreaking rules of the current lockdown – remains unfortunately unchanged for now, we do hope to relax it as we move from phase 1 to phase 2.

Finally Presiding Officer, I know that a key priority for parents, children and young people is education and early years services.

I can confirm that we are planning to allow Universities and colleges to have a phased return next term, with a combination of remote learning, and some limited on-campus learning.

On schools and early learning and childcare, we have published today the report of the Education Recovery Group, which is chaired by the Deputy First Minister and  includes representatives of councils, parent and teacher organisations and trade unions.

Through this approach, we have reached an agreed position that will help us build confidence amongst pupils, parents and teachers about a safe return to formal schooling.

The report can be read in full on the Scottish Government website. I stress that all of its conclusions are subject to health advice, and to appropriate measures on physical distancing, testing and provision of protective equipment, where required, being in place.

But let me summarise now the key points.

Teachers and other school staff will return during June to prepare classrooms for the new term and a different model of learning.

During June and over the summer, an increased number of children will have access to critical childcare - such as has been provided for the children of key workers during lockdown.

And we will provide, where possible, transition support for children going into primary 1 or children moving from primary 7 to secondary school.

From 11 August, all schools will re-open. However, to allow appropriate physical distancing, children will return to a blended model of part time in-school and part time at-home learning.

Childminders can re-open during phase 1 and over the summer all early years childcare providers will re-open, subject to necessary health measures. Capacity will be prioritized for children of key workers, early learning and childcare entitlement and children in need. And the Care Inspectorate will provide further guidance in due course.

Now these arrangements will not represent a complete return to normality by August. But we judge them to be the most sensible and safe approach we can plan for at this stage.

To reflect the fact that children will still be doing part of their learning at home, we are also going to invest a further £30 million to provide laptops for disadvantaged children and young people to enable them to study online.

Presiding Officer, I want at this stage to take a moment to say a huge thank you to parents, carers and teachers who are doing so much to ensure that children continue to learn during this lockdown period.

And I want to send a special message to children and young people themselves – on the off chance that any of you are watching a parliamentary statement – I know how difficult it has been for you not to be at school and with your friends, but you have been magnificent during this lockdown period – and from the bottom of my heart thank you to every single one of you.

Presiding Officer, to conclude as I have briefly summarized and I know all members will take time to study this document in full, this route map tries to sketch out as much detail as we can provide at this stage, how and in what stages, we might move back to some normality as we continue to live with this virus, as we are going to have to do for quite some time to come.

It does not yet set definite dates for all phases, because it cannot do so, we know that this virus is and will remain unpredictable.

And of course to a great extent, the timing of these changes, the timing of moving from one phase to another will depends on all of us – it will depend on our continued ability to suppress the virus even as we move out of lockdown. 

Our emergence from lockdown will be faster or slower, depending on the continued success that we have in suppressing the virus.

It’s also worth saying I think that in the weeks ahead, our messages will inevitably have to become more  nuanced and more complex, as we try to strike a very difficult balance protecting public health and also allowing more personal choice. 

Straightforward, strict rules will gradually be replaced by the need for all of us to exercise judgment and responsibility.

However some key advice - for example on isolating if you have symptoms of Covid,  strict physical distancing, washing your hands and face coverings - will remain the same throughout.

We must continue, all of us, to recognise that every decision we take as individuals, has an impact on others and on our collective wellbeing. 

That sense of collective responsibility has been so appreciated by me and I know by all of us throughout this lockdown period – indeed, it is only because people across the country have so overwhelmingly observed the lockdown restrictions, that we are now in a position of being able to plan ahead.

It will be absolutely vital for all of us to continue to abide by whatever rules are in place at any particular stage.

And for the moment - until 28 May - I must therefore stress that our key public health guidance, as of now, remains unchanged.

Please stay at home except for essential purposes – which right now include exercise, going to essential work that cannot be done at home, or shopping for essential items like food and medicine.

You can now exercise more than once a day – but when you do leave the house, please stay more than 2 metres from other people. And for now don’t meet up with households other than your own.

Please wear 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, please stay at home completely. Those symptoms as a reminder are a high temperature, a persistent cough, or a change or loss of smell or taste.

I’m very aware that talk of emerging from lockdown, as well as the nice weather we’ve enjoyed in recent days makes these restrictions even harder.

But I want to stress by abiding by them is what makes it possible for us to think about relaxing them.

By doing the right thing, and continuing to do the right thing, all of us have helped to slow the spread of this virus, we’ve helped to protect our NHS from being overwhelmed, and despite the grim numbers of people dying, we have helped to save lives.

And as a result of all of that personal sacrifice, on the part of everybody sacrifice for the common good we are now able – gradually, cautiously, and in phases – to plan our move back to some normality.

So I want to end Presiding Officer, by thanking everyone for making this prospect possible.

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