Good afternoon, and welcome to today’s briefing.
I want to start by giving the usual update on the COVID-19 statistics.
An additional 14 positive cases were confirmed yesterday - that takes the total now in Scotland to 18,170.
A total of 867 patients are currently in hospital with the virus either confirmed or suspected. That is 66 more than yesterday, but the increase is all in suspected cases. The number of confirmed cases has reduced by 3.
A total of 15 people last night were in intensive care with confirmed or suspected COVID-19. That is 1 fewer than yesterday.
Since 5 March, a total of 3,978 patients who had tested positive and needed hospital treatment have now been discharged.
And in the last 24 hours, I’m pleased to say that no deaths were registered of a patient confirmed through a test as having COVID-19. That figure is of course extremely welcome, but we must bear in mind that fewer deaths tend to be registered on Sundays.
The total number of deaths in Scotland - under that measurement of people confirmed by a test as having the virus - is therefore still 2,472.
I want to send my deepest condolences to everyone behind these statistics who has lost a loved one as a result of this illness.
I also want to express my thanks once again to our health and care workers, and indeed to all our key workers – the entire country is grateful to you for everything you are doing.
Our progress in suppressing this virus continues to be good as these statistics bear out - though we must not be complacent.
That progress, however, does allow us to consider now whether and to what extent we can give more clarity in terms of indicative dates for the next steps in our routemap out of lockdown - and, as a heads up today, I intend to set out more detail on that later this week.
However, as we do so, we must remember, all of us, that the virus hasn’t gone away. There are already countries - China and Germany for example - that are right now dealing with spikes in cases as a result of significant outbreaks.
And health officials in South Korea have said today that they think the country is now experiencing a second wave.
So I know that when numbers of cases and deaths here are continuing to fall, it’s very tempting for all of us to think it’s all over and we should just now quickly get back to normal.
We are trying to get back to normal and we want to do that as quickly as possible, but let me reiterate my strong view that acting recklessly now would be a serious mistake - we must continue to be cautious and all of us must continue to adhere strictly to the public health advice. That will help us continue progress and avoid a resurgence of the virus now - and it will also hopefully put us in a stronger position ahead of the winter months to come.
So please stick to the rules - and when you are out and about, as all of us are able to be more now, remember FACTS:
- Face coverings in enclosed spaces - these are mandatory from today on public transport
- Avoid crowded places, even outdoors
- Clean your hands regularly, as well as surfaces
- Maintain two metres distance from people in other households
- Self-isolate and book a test immediately if you have COVID symptoms
Today’s news conference is following a slightly different format from usual. I’ve got one significant item that I want to update you on today and it relates to the economy.
Once I have finished my remarks, I’m going to hand over to Benny Higgins, who joins me today. Benny is the chair of our Advisory Group on Economic Recovery.
The Scottish Government appointed the advisory group back in April, to provide recommendations on how best to restore the economy to sustainable and inclusive growth as we bring the Covid pandemic under greater control.
We did so because we knew then, that the pandemic and what we had to do to tackle it would cause significant economic harm. Our initial focus has had to be on protecting people’s lives, and on providing immediate lifeline support to keep businesses afloat and people employed.
But as the pandemic does comes under more control, our efforts must increasingly focus on how our economy recovers and renews itself for the long term.
I am very grateful to Benny and the advisory group members for their efforts. I’m also grateful to all of the businesses, business organisations and others who engaged so fully in the group’s work - and to Lord Robert Smith who facilitated much of that business engagement.
The advisory group’s report, which I have received today, includes 25 substantial recommendations. These are wide-ranging in scope – alongside areas such as investment, employment and skills, they cover areas such as the relationship between government and business, the future of the care sector, the importance of culture, and the role of the third sector.
The Scottish Government will produce a detailed response to the report before the end of July, so I will not comment in detail today on all 25 of the report’s recommendations – although Benny will expand on some of its key points.
What I do want to do this morning, however, is be very clear that the Scottish Government sees the report as a serious and substantive piece of work – and that we agree with its basic principles.
Many of its themes – for example the importance of education, employment and tackling inequalities – are clearly going to be critical to our economic recovery. The report is also very strong in highlighting the regional dimension to growth.
And its specific recommendations are significant and constructive. For example the importance of digital infrastructure investment has been emphasised once again by this crisis, and is rightly a major issue in the report.
In addition, the Scottish Government agrees with the advisory group about the importance of working with the UK Government, so that our fiscal framework has enough flexibility to enable us to support investment for recovery.
We also support the advisory group’s prioritisation of a green recovery, and its recognition of the vital importance of the new Scottish National Investment Bank.
And the report’s recommendations for youth employment and a Jobs Guarantee - including the essential contribution that business can make- are potentially very significant, as we seek to ensure that young people get the opportunities they deserve in the wake of this pandemic.
Finally, the report highlights the fact that Scotland’s economic recovery must be a collaborative partnership.
The recommendations in this report are not just for the Scottish Government, though many of them of course are. They are for the business sector, the third sector, our higher and further education sector and the UK government as well.
The Scottish Government already works well with these organisations in many areas - but the Covid crisis has reinforced the crucial importance of those relationships, and of ensuring that recovery is a true partnership effort.
Above all else, the report is clear-sighted about the scale – the vast scale - of the challenge that our economy faces as we come out of this crisis.
However it sets out practical measures, founded on values, which can help us to address that challenge.
It provides recommendations which can help us to help businesses and individuals get back on their feet.
And in doing so, I think it potentially lays the foundations for a much more resilient, more sustainable and fairer economy in the years to come. I therefore warmly welcome it, and once again want to thank everyone who has contributed to it and particularly Benny for chairing the group.
I’m going to hand over to Benny in a moment or two, but I want to end by reiterating our key public health messages. If we want to get into a recovery phase, it is crucial that we continue efforts to suppress this virus.
Since Friday, any household has been able to meet with up to two other households – but let me remind you those meetings right now must be outdoors unless you have formed an extended household group. You should only go indoors to use the toilet, or to get through to a garden, and you should clean any surfaces you touch as you do that.
I know as I indicated at the outset of my remarks, that when you hear me report relatively low numbers of daily cases, and thankfully reducing numbers of people dying, many might wonder whether these rules still matter.
But it is important to stress that as we start to go out and about more, these rules actually matter more not less. And it is important to remember that COVID-19 has not gone away. It remains highly infectious and highly dangerous.
As I said earlier, we have seen reports in recent days from many other countries of increases in the virus and that should remind us of the risk that it still poses. And it should remind all of us that it doesn’t take much for the virus to take off again. It is only by sticking to the rules that we have made the progress that I report now on a daily basis. By continuing to stick with them, and by suppressing the virus further, we will all be able to move more quickly out of lockdown in the weeks ahead.
That is why the decisions all of us are taking now as individuals more than ever directly affect the health, the wellbeing and indeed the economic prosperity for all of us.
The public health campaign we launched on Friday – Facts – which I’ve already mentioned today summarises the key points you need to remember and apply. So let me end just by reiterating those 5 crucial, key pieces of advice.
- Face coverings should be worn in enclosed spaces;
- Avoid crowded places;
- Clean your hands and hard surfaces regularly;
- Two metre distancing is important and
- Self-isolate and book a test - if you have symptoms.
By remembering and abiding by those 5 basic requirements, all of us can stay safe, protect others and we will all save lives.
So please continue to do the right thing, and to stick with these rules. Thank you once again, to everyone who is doing exactly that.
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