- 22 Mar 2020
I’ve called today’s briefing because I want to leave people in no doubt about how serious the situation we face is, and how vital it is that everyone - individuals and business - follows the advice that has been issued.
As of today 416 people have tested positive for Coronovirus in Scotland - that is an increase of 43 since yesterday. I want to stress though, as I have done before, that this figure is an underestimate of the true numbers of people who are likely to be infected.
It is also with huge sadness that I must confirm that 10 people have now died in Scotland – an increase of 3 since yesterday. My thoughts are very much with their loved ones.
Today we have also had to call on military help to transport a patient from one of Scotland’s islands to the mainland for treatment.
This underlines the fact that no part of Scotland will not be affected by this virus – no part of our country will not have people who either have it now or get it in future. And unfortunately no corner of Scotland is not at risk of seeing some of their residents die from it.
However – and this is my central and most important point – if we all do the right things now, we will reduce that impact and save lives.
If we don’t, we face many more people than would otherwise be the case becoming ill and dying, and we risk our NHS being overwhelmed.
I’m not saying this to scare people. I am saying it to leave you in no doubt about the seriousness of the situation we face.
And I’m saying it to stress the importance of all of us following the advice that has been issued – it is for our own protection and for the protection of those most at risk of becoming seriously ill.
So let me be clear.
The advice should not be considered optional – it should be seen instead as a set of rules to be followed.
To protect Scotland we must all do the right thing.
Life shouldn’t feel normal just now. So if your life still feels entirely normal, ask yourself if you are doing the right things, or if instead you might be putting yourself and others at unnecessary risk.
Every time you think about meeting up with or coming into physical contact with others, ask yourself if it is really necessary. And if it is not, please do not do it.
Don’t go shopping except for essentials like food and medicine – and when you do please keep a safe distance of 2 meters from others.
Shops that have to remain open should be ensuring responsible social distancing.
Don’t gather for parties at people’s houses or in groups for, I’m sorry to say, wedding receptions and other celebrations.
When you do go outside, and of course it’s okay to be outside, don’t crowd together in the park or on the beach because that can be almost as dangerous as going to the pub.
If you go out in the sunshine follow the social distancing guidance – go on your own or with one or two others in a small family group. Don’t gather together in bigger crowds.
Beaches should not be busy, parks should not be full.
And if you are over 70 or in a vulnerable group – I know this is hard – but the advice to stay at home is for your own protection.
To businesses, please follow the rules and support your employees to do so too.
Unprecedented support is rightly being made available to you to ensure that wages can still be paid even if your employees are not at work.
You should not be asking people to come to work if they have symptoms or if they’re in a household with someone with symptoms.
And you should be supporting people to work at home wherever possible.
Let me say a word now about pubs, clubs, restaurants and gyms. I’m glad to say that the vast majority have complied with advice to close and I thank them for that.
Last night a tiny minority of pubs, however, stayed open.
Let me blunt – in doing so, they put lives at risk.
My message to them is close now.
We will have emergency powers within days to force you to close and we will use these powers if we have to.
But you should not wait for that. You should do the right thing now and help us save lives.
These are steps we all must take to protect Scotland.
I want to turn now to reports of people flocking to Scotland’s remote communities. It may well be an understandable human instinct to think we can outrun a virus – but the fact is we can’t.
What we do is risk taking it to the places we go. And in our remote and rural communities that means extra pressure on essential services and on health services that are already more distant from people.
So I can confirm that as of now we have advised our ferry companies – who have already suspended bookings – to no longer take non-essential travellers.
Those who do not normally live on the islands and have travelled there in the last few days will be able to leave to reduce pressure.
But from now on ferries will be for those who live on our islands, who have an essential need to travel to or from the mainland and for essential supplies or business. Nothing else.
To our hotels, B&Bs and self-catering accommodation – you should not be accepting visitors. Provide accommodation for your staff and make yourselves available to help essential workers and support essential services – that is all.
Scotland is a warm and welcoming country and I fervently hope it’s not too long before we are opening our arms and our countryside to visitors again – but right now our priority must be to protect people from this virus, protect our NHS and protect Scotland.
The same message applies to all those who want to send their children to school tomorrow and to those businesses asking that their employees be designated key workers.
I want to remind people that we have closed schools for a health reason. The experts say it will help slow the spread of the virus and save lives.
So we must keep the number of children taking up childcare places – whether that is in schools or other settings that local authorities decide to use – to an absolute minimum.
Priority must be given to children of the most critical key workers and the most vulnerable children in our society.
The higher the number of children in childcare settings, the higher the health risks for us all. This is about saving lives.
So, let me be crystal clear: we have introduced categories so that the ICU nurse gets a place or the A&E doctor gets a place, if they need it, first.
If there are places left after we have done that, others, in order of priority, will be considered.
But there are only so many places to go around and that is not going to change.
Otherwise we risk undermining and compromising the health benefits of schools being closed.
So I am asking companies to think about how people work and where they work.
I appeal to the Chief Executives of organisations who may have staff that they consider to be key workers, to ruthlessly prioritise those providing absolutely essential basic services to the public in these emergency times.
We cannot designate whole workforces or entire groups of staff.
There simply isn’t the space to do that and we will not compromise public health.
So, to the vast majority of employers I say this – the solution to the challenges that I know you are facing now is not key worker status. It is new shift patterns, it is working from home, it is dropping non-essential tasks. And that is what you can do to help all of us save lives.
We simply cannot have too many people in our schools and nurseries, and because of that I also want to announce a further change to the advice that the Deputy First Minister set out last Thursday on the completion of coursework for young people taking SQA national qualifications.
This change comes about because of the escalation of the public health advice around social distancing that I set out on Friday.
With immediate effect, no young person with coursework to complete should attend school to do so.
Where coursework can be completed remotely, then these arrangements will be put in place by schools.
The SQA Chief Examiner fully agrees with this public health driven decision, and will set out as soon as possible how the SQA will take account of that in the certification of young people’s qualifications and achievements.
The final issue I want to address today is on what we call ‘shielding’ – how we will protect and shield the most clinically vulnerable in our society.
200,000 people in Scotland who have specific forms of cancer, severe respiratory conditions, rare diseases, have received organ transplants, are on immunosuppression therapies or who are pregnant and have congenital heart disease will be contacted and offered a range of support.
For this group the guidance on isolation will be strict – some may need to isolate within their own homes.
So the support we will be making available through GPs and local resilience partnerships will include not just help with their conditions, access to medicine and services, but also with food and supplies.
The extraordinary measures this group will have to go through to protect themselves demonstrate why each and every one of us has to take this seriously. It is only by following the rules that we can save lives and protect Scotland and make sure our NHS is not overwhelmed.
I want to stress again in closing that this is an extremely serious situation, but all of us have apart to play in determining just how serious it becomes.
If we do the right things now we can slow down the spread, reduce the peak impact and protect the ability of our National Health Service to cope.
So I appeal to everyone across Scotland to do the right thing – for yourselves, for your loved-ones and for your community.