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

Statement given by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at a media briefing in St Andrew's House on Wednesday 21 October 2020.

Good afternoon, thank you for joining us. I will start with the usual daily report on the COVID statistics.

The total number of positive cases reported yesterday was 1,739.

That represents 19.8% of people newly tested, and 9.7% of the total number of tests carried out.

The total number of cases in Scotland since the start of the pandemic therefore now stands at 50,903.

Of yesterday’s cases 605 were in Greater Glasgow and Clyde, 520 in Lanarkshire, 250 in Lothian and 105 in Ayrshire and Arran. 

The remaining cases were spread across nine other health board areas.

Now I would remind you that an element of today’s cases will be catch up on the past few days given the backlog in testing that we’ve had over the weakened, and that I have spoken about earlier in the week.   

I can also confirm that 873 people are currently in hospital which is an increase of 49 from yesterday.

And 73 people are in intensive care, that is three more than the figure yesterday, although again, for them who follow these figures very closely,

Let me point out that yesterday’s figure was revised in the course of the day from 69 to 70. So today’s 73 is an increase of three.

I very much regret though, to report that in the past 24 hours, 28 additional deaths have been registered of patients who first tested positive over the previous 28 days. 

That is the highest number of deaths we’ve reported in the daily figures since the 21st May.  And it takes the total number of deaths, under this measurement, to 2,653.

National Records of Scotland has also just published its weekly update, which you will recall includes cases where COVID is a suspected or contributory cause of death.

Today’s update shows that by Sunday just passed, the total number of registered deaths linked to COVID, under that wider definition, was 4,376.  

75 of those deaths were registered last week, that is 50 more than in the week before – and that is the highest weekly total since early June.

58 of the 75 deaths took place in hospitals, 12 in care homes, and five at home or in other non-institutional settings.

Every single death, of course, represents the loss of somebody who was special and loved and I want, again today, to send my deepest condolences to all those families and networks of friends across the country who have been impacted in this most extreme and cruel way by the impact of this virus.

I want, though, to just give a point of context though, and it doesn’t in anyway take away from the very upsetting nature of the statistics I have just reported to you.

Today’s figures on hospital and ICU admissions and the figures I’ve just reported on deaths are obviously clearly concerning - and we take them very seriously as we consider our response and our next steps in the fight against the virus - however, as Jason will touch on briefly as well, these figures, it must be remembered, relate to people who could have been infected with the virus perhaps two to three weeks ago.

So they should not be taken as an indication that the current restrictions we are all living under are not having any impact.

I’ll say a little bit more about the early indications that the impact that is having later on.

My main update for today though concerns the temporary restrictions on hospitality which we introduced two weeks ago, and which legally took effect on Friday 9th October.

As I said yesterday, we will publish, and I can tell you now that we will do this on Friday, a new strategic framework for managing the virus, and indeed living with the virus through the winter and into the early parts of next year.

That strategic framework will include different levels of restrictions that can be applied, either nationally or regionally, depending on the level of infection across the country or in different parts of the country.

Subject to parliamentary approval of the broad framework, it is intended that the levels will be applied from the 2nd November and reviewed regularly thereafter.

The detail of what level will initially apply to each part of the country will be assessed in the coming days and set out in advance of 2nd November.

It is important for me to be clear at this stage that given the nature of what we are dealing with, and given some of the numbers I’ve just reported, all be it with the caveats attached to them that I did.

We can’t rule out that this new approach will entail further extension of existing restrictions, or perhaps even tougher restrictions for all or parts of the country, if we think that is necessary to safeguard health and life.

But that will depend on up to date assessments of the impact of our current restrictions, and it’s also important to be very clear that all of our decisions will be balanced by an assessment of the wider harms that COVID and the measures we are taking to tackle it are having, and that includes the wider harms to health and wellbeing and to jobs and livelihoods.

The timescale for introducing the new levels system leaves us with a short term decision about the current temporary restrictions on hospitality.

These are currently due to expire on Monday coming, the 26th October.   

However, following a meeting of the Cabinet this morning, I can confirm that we have decided to extend these measures for a further week. 

This is first and foremost a public health decision. Although we have grounds for cautious optimism that the restrictions are having an effect, the clinical advice to Cabinet is that it would not be safe to lift them as early as Monday.

But, secondly, the extension allows us to transition more smoothly to the new levels system that we hope that will be introduced on 2nd November.

So I can confirm that the current temporary restrictions will now apply until 6am on Monday 2nd November.  And that of course includes the tighter restrictions that are currently in place across the Central Belt.

Let me run through what those restrictions are.

But before I do so, let me take the opportunity to remind everyone that the rule against visiting other people’s houses also remains in place for now.

Because that is best way of limiting transmission from one household to another.

Let me run through the wider restrictions.

Firstly – and with the exception of the five Central Belt health board areas that I’ll come onto in a moment – the restrictions mean that pubs, bars, restaurants and cafes can only operate indoors from 6 am to 6 pm.

These premises cannot serve alcohol indoors at any time, although they can serve alcohol outdoors up until 10 pm.

In addition, hotel restaurants can serve residents indoors beyond 6pm, but not with alcohol.

We also introduced much tighter restrictions in the five health board regions where case numbers have been especially high those are Greater Glasgow and Clyde, Lanarkshire, Ayrshire and Arran, Lothian and Forth Valley.

In these areas, all licensed bars and restaurants must remain closed indoors and outdoors, although takeaways are permitted.

And again there is an exception for hotels serving food and non-alcoholic drinks to guests. And cafes – whether licensed or unlicensed - can stay open until 6 pm to prevent social isolation. But they must not serve alcohol.

In addition in these areas, snooker and pool halls, indoor bowling alleys, casinos and bingo halls will remain closed for an additional week.

Contact sports for people aged 18 and over will also remain suspended - with an exception for professional sports.

Indoor group exercise activities will not be allowed for people aged 18 and over for that further week - although gyms and pools can remain open for individual exercise.

And outdoor live events are not permitted in those five regions.

Finally, we continue to advise people very strongly who live in these Central Belt areas, not to travel outside the health board area that they live in, if they do not need to do so.

Similarly, people in other parts of Scotland should not travel to those areas unless it is absolutely necessary.

I know all of this is really unwelcome and these restrictions are harsh. They are harsh financially for many individuals and businesses, and they are harsh emotionally for all of us.

So I want to stress again, firstly that none of these decisions are being taken lightly. This is all about trying to save lives and minimise the health damage that this virus we know is capable of doing.

But I also want to stress that we do believe that these restrictions do make a difference, and indeed we believe they may already be making a difference.

Even allowing for today’s figures, though it is and I must insert this note of caution, it is too early to be certain about any of this this.

But even allowing for today’s figures we think that we may be starting to see a reduction in the rate at which new cases are increasing.

So the early data underlines the importance of all of us sticking with the restrictions that are in place.

Now given that today’s Cabinet decision today requires many business to stay closed or continue to restrict their trading, I also want to confirm today that we will extend the support, the financial support available to them, to cover the additional week.

Full details of that support and how it applies to different sizes of business will be published online. But there will be extensions to both the Business Support Grants that we offer, and the support we are providing at this stage for the job furlough scheme.

All businesses will receive, proportionally, the same level of support over the extension 7 days - for each day of closure – as they did in the first 16 days of restrictions.

And, for this limited period, as I say, we are also extending the Scottish Governments furlough support scheme for an extra week as well.

Now later in the week, when we publish the new Strategic Approach to managing COVID, we will also set out our planned levels of support for the future in the event of further restrictions.

It is important to be clear at this stage, and this is a point that I will speak more about in days to come, but I want to be clear about it now.

That while the level of support we set out in the strategic framework will be the maximum level of support that the Scottish Government is able to provide within the resources available to us at this time, it is the minimum that we think is necessary.

In common with other devolved administrations and indeed many councils now across England, we will continue to pursue urgent discussions with the Treasury about the provision of adequate support and funding to support businesses and individuals through the kinds of restrictions that are likely to be necessary in the period ahead.

Now I’ve spent, for good reason, a bit of time talking about the extension to the temporary restrictions, but I want to draw my remarks to a close by just giving my usual reminder of the general rules and guidelines that we are asking everybody to follow right now. 

Again let me remind people living in Lothian, Lanarkshire, Forth Valley, Ayrshire and Arran and Greater Glasgow and Clyde not to travel outside their own health board area unless they really need to do so.

Let me remind everybody, all of us across the country that we should not visit other people’s homes right now except for very specific purposes. If you are providing childcare or looking after a vulnerable person.

And when we do meet people from other households - outdoors, or in indoor public places that are open, for example cafés, we shouldn’t be meeting in groups of more than 6, and those 6 people should not be from more than two households.

Please don’t share cars with other people outside your household if you can avoid it.

Work from home if you can and download the Protect Scotland app, if you haven’t already done so.

And finally;

  • remember to wear Face coverings when you are out and about
  • remember to Avoid crowded places.
  • remember Clean your hands and hard surfaces
  • remember keep Two metres away people in other households.
  • and remember Self isolate, and get tested, if you have any of the symptoms of COVID.

Thank you all for the sacrifices you continue to make.

It will make a difference, I know it is hard but we must stick with it in order to continue that process of getting COIVID under control.

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