Coronavirus (COVID-19) update: First Minister's speech 22 July 2020

Statement given by the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at the media briefing in St Andrew's House, Edinburgh on Wednesday 22  July.

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Good afternoon, and welcome to today’s briefing.

I want to start with the usual update on the most recent Covid-19 statistics for Scotland.

An additional 10 positive cases were confirmed yesterday - that takes the total now in Scotland to 18,484.

The Health Board breakdown will be available later as normal.

However, the provisional information I have is that three of these 10 cases are in Lanarkshire where we are dealing with an outbreak, which I’ll say more about shortly. At this stage, we know one of these three is associated with the outbreak.

From today, as well as reporting the overall number of positive cases - which can fluctuate in line with the number of tests carried out - I will also report the percentage of people tested who have been newly identified as positive.

For context, the World Health Organisation suggests than an indication of the epidemic being under control is less than 5% of samples testing positive over a two week period.

The 10 cases being reported today in Scotland represent 0.3% testing positive.

The 22 cases reported yesterday, represented 0.8%.

I can also report that 295 patients are currently in hospital with confirmed Covid. That is eight fewer than yesterday. As you may remember from yesterday’s briefing, we will now report figures for confirmed cases only.

A total of three people last night were in intensive care with confirmed Covid-19. That is one fewer than yesterday.

I am glad to say that during the last 24 hours, no deaths were registered of a patient confirmed through a test as having Covid-19.  The total number of deaths, under this particular measure, therefore remains at 2,491.

In addition, the National Records of Scotland has just published its regular weekly report, which is more detailed than our daily figures. Like the daily figures, it includes deaths of people who have been confirmed by a test as having COVID.

However it also covers cases where the virus has been entered on a death certificate as a suspected or contributory cause of death - even if its presence was not confirmed by a test. That is a wider measure, and therefore it captures more cases.

The latest NRS report covers the period to Sunday 19 July. At that point, according to our daily figures, 2,491 deaths of people who had tested positive had been registered.

However, today’s report shows that, by Sunday, the total number of registered deaths with either a confirmed or a presumed link to the virus was 4,193. Of those, six were registered in the seven days up to Sunday. That is a decrease of seven from the week before.

Three of those six deaths were in care homes, which is a reduction of four from last week.

The total number of deaths recorded last week – from all causes - was 32 higher than the five year average for the same time of year.

We will of course see if there are any causes for concern there, but it is worth remembering that the total number of deaths is always likely to fluctuate a bit. Last week’s figures follow on from a three week period, when the total number of deaths was below the five year average by 18, 35 and 49 respectively.

Last week was the twelfth week in a row in which the number of deaths from the virus has fallen. In addition, the total weekly number of Covid deaths now is the lowest we have seen since we started to record them in this way.

Today’s report shows once again that Covid has been driven to very low levels in Scotland.

However the figures also remind us that more than 4,000 people have lost their lives to this virus.  

We must always remember that each of those deaths, was of a unique and irreplaceable individual. I want to send my condolences to everyone who is grieving the loss of a loved one.

I also want, as I always do, to send my gratitude our health and care workers for the extraordinary job they continue to do.

I want to talk about two issues this afternoon. In a few minutes, I will go over some of the changes to lockdown rules which we have previously announced come into effect today.

However before I do that, I will give a brief update on the latest information we have about the Covid outbreak in Lanarkshire, based around the Sitel call centre.

Since Sunday an intensive contact tracing operation has been underway.

All staff at Sitel have been told to isolate at home for 14 days, and in addition all staff have been asked to come forward for testing.  As of this morning, around 390 test results, out of around 400 tested overall, have been returned.

As of now, 15 positive cases have been identified of people who work at the site, and a further five additional positive cases have been identified through the tracing of family members and close contacts.

Contact tracing has also confirmed that a number of Sitel staff who have tested positive also had links to other locations, prior to becoming aware of the outbreak.

Environmental Health officers have checked on those locations. They are satisfied that precautions such as protective equipment and cleaning were in place, and that the risk of transmission is therefore low.  Close contacts from these locations have also been advised to isolate.

I want to take the opportunity today to thank the five locations – which are Owen’s Bar in Coatbridge; The Railway Tavern and Merlin’s Bar in Motherwell; Costa Coffee in Carfin; and END clothing in Glasgow - for their co-operation.

I would also ask people who might have attended those locations in the last week or so to be extra vigilant, to follow all guidance and to isolate and book a test if you do experience any symptoms. I am saying this not because I think there is a real concern in transmission there but simply as an added precaution

This outbreak should be a very clear reminder to people that Coronavirus has not gone away. It does not take much for very small numbers of cases to become much bigger numbers – and while Test & Protect and our local public health teams are working incredibly hard to contain any outbreaks, it is not just their job. I think that’s an important point for all of us to remember, each and every one of us has a job to do to keep the virus at bay.

The second point I want to cover is to confirm that – in line with the timetable set out in our routemap – more services are reopening today.

From today, universities and colleges can institute a phased return to on-campus learning.

Further personal retail services - such as beauticians and tailors - can re-open, with enhanced hygiene measures in place.

Motorcycle instruction, tractor driving instruction and car theory tests can also resume from today.

And finally drive-in live events – such as comedy and theatre shows, concerts and bingo evenings – can also take place from today

Today’s steps represent a further cautious re-opening of sectors, and cautious resumption of services. As always, there are some risks attached to them, but we believe that with the appropriate mitigations in place, these risks can be managed. 

As many of you will know, the regulations currently require us to review the lockdown restrictions every three weeks. The next review is due next Thursday, a week tomorrow, so I now is the right time to inject a note of caution.

Phase 2 of our emergence from lockdown took exactly three weeks. But as I indicated two weeks ago this current phase, phase 3, is likely to last considerably longer.

The changes we have made over the last two weeks have been really significant, including the opening of our tourism sector and indoor hospitality, so we have to carefully monitor the impact of that and the number of new coronavirus cases we are seeing each day.  

Examples like the outbreak in North Lanarkshire show what can happen when people are mixing indoors and when guidance is perhaps not rigorously followed.

At a time when the virus is picking up again in a number of European countries, we need to be confident that it is safe to change restrictions further.

Our main focus right now, I think it is a priority, is on keeping the virus at a low enough level to enable schools to fully and safely re-open from the 11th of August.

That would be a further significant change. In addition, we have said already that if possible, we would like to remove the requirement for shielding from 31 July. I will say more about changes for shielding people tomorrow.

These two aims – allowing people who have been shielding to live more normally, and enabling children to go back to school full time – are really important priorities. And to be frank they are only achievable, if levels of Covid in the community remain very low.

Now obviously, we will continue to review the data for new cases and hospital admissions, among other things and our final decisions will be made next week.  If there are steps we can take, then we will - we cannot leave restrictions in place for longer than is judged to be necessary.

However I want to flag up now that it is possible that we may not be able to make any changes next week beyond confirming the return of schooling and a pause in shielding.

So for those businesses who are still waiting for a date to restart, I thank you for your ongoing patience. I fully understand how difficult any further delay is for you, but I also hope you will understand why we need to prioritise re-opening schools.

I also want to underline that we are making changes at a pace and at a level that we think is right and safe for our current circumstances here in Scotland.

Announcements made for other parts of the UK do not automatically apply here. 

For example I want to underline that the UK government’s encouragement to those who can work from home in England to nevertheless return to workplaces, does not yet apply in Scotland.

Working from home, where that is feasible, remains the default and preferred position and we expect employers to continue to support people to do that.  We will be publishing new guidance on home working shortly.

The cluster of cases I have just talked about - around a call centre in Lanarkshire – is a salutary reminder that transmission of this virus can occur in workplaces and spread relatively easily.

Our position remains that non-essential offices and call centres should remain closed, until we judge it is safe to make this significant change for Scotland.

These notes of caution link to the point I want to end on.

It continues to be the case that the only way in which we can take further steps out of lockdown safely, is if we continue to suppress the virus.

And achieving that – now, more than ever – comes down to the individual decisions that each and every one of us is making.

I know how difficult it is to maintain two metre distancing when you are meeting people you haven’t seen for three or four months - especially with family members and close friends, the human instinct to hug and be physically close is a very strong one.

But staying that bit further apart can make all the difference – it makes you less likely to get the virus, and makes you less likely to transmit the virus.

The choices we all make as individuals - on physical distancing, on wearing face coverings, on washing our hands – these will decide how quickly all of us can make further progress out of lockdown together.

And so I want to close once again by emphasising Facts - the five key things all of us should remember in everything we do.

  • Face coverings should be worn in enclosed spaces such as shops and public transport.
  • Avoid crowded places.
  • Clean your hands and hard surfaces regularly.
  • Two metre distancing remains the rule – it is the one measure we all need to remind ourselves to constantly comply with
  • and self-isolate, and book a test, if you have symptoms. Go to and book a test immediately

If we all stick to this we have a real chance of getting the virus back under control and accelerating progress back to something much more normal than life has felt in the past few months. My thanks again to everybody who is co-operating and playing their part.

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