Good afternoon everyone, thank you for joining us today as usual.
Let me start as I always do with the update on the Covid-19 statistics.
An additional 16 positive cases were confirmed yesterday. That represents 0.4% of people who were newly tested yesterday, and it takes the total number of cases in Scotland to 18,500.
It’s worth highlighting that we have changed the reporting of figures on the Scottish Government’s website from today so that the figures for new cases – including that percentage of positive tests - are now shown more prominently on the main Covid page. That website is updated at 2 o’clock every day.
The health board breakdown of today’s cases will be available at 2 o’clock but the provisional information I have is that 4 of today’s cases are in Lanarkshire.
And, more specifically in relation to the outbreak at the Sitel call centre in Lanarkshire, I can confirm that as of this morning, there are a total of 24 positive cases associated with that outbreak which is an increase of 4 since yesterday.
That includes 17 people employed at the site, which is 2 more than yesterday, and 7 contacts, which is also 2 more than yesterday.
Now, given that the virus can have a long incubation period, intensive work is still ongoing in order to ensure that all possible chains of transmission from this outbreak are being closed down. And I am very grateful to everyone who is working very had as part of that effort.
I can also report today that a total of 287 patients confirmed as having the virus are currently in hospital which is 8 fewer than yesterday.
And as of last night, there were just 2 people with confirmed COVID in intensive care in Scotland, which is 1 fewer than yesterday.
And finally, on the statistics, I am very glad to say that once again, during the past 24 hours, no deaths were registered of patients confirmed through a test as having the virus. The total number of deaths, under this measure, therefore remains 2,491.
This is obviously very welcome news. It means that no deaths have been reported in Scotland under this measurement during the entirety of the past week - and that just one death in Scotland has been reported over the past 15 days.
Now, it is exactly four months today since the country went into lockdown, so there is no doubt that these figures show the incredible progress that has been made in that time.
But that progress has been hard won and it has been a very painful journey over these past four months in particular for those who have lost someone to this virus. The number of deaths is still a reminder of the impact of the virus and therefore I want to extend my condolences again today to everyone who is grieving somebody that they loved.
In addition, I want to thank again our health and care workers for all of the work that you continue to do through this really challenging time for everyone.
Now, I have one very important issue I want to talk about today - which is changes in our advice to people who are shielding.
It’s now almost four months since we asked those considered to be at the greatest risk from this virus, to shield.
At that time, there was a very high risk that you might be exposed to the virus, and therefore shielding was necessary to keep you safe.
Together with local government and the third sector, we have been able to put in place support for you while you have been shielding– for example access to free food deliveries if necessary.
But I know that shielding has been incredibly difficult – it has separated you from your family and loved ones, it has restricted you in virtually every aspect of your normal lives, and there are very obvious and very real potential harms to your mental health from extended isolation.
For all of those reasons, we’ve always been clear that we won’t ask you to shield longer than you have to.
The infection rate now is much lower than it was in March. And just to give some illustration of that, when the shielding advice started, more than 20% of Covid tests were proving positive, and 150 new cases a day were being reported. Less than a week after shielding started, we were reporting more than 300 new cases a day. Tpoday of course I have reported 16 new cases and that is 0.4% of people testing newly positive
So, as these figures today show, we are now in a very different position to the one we that faced back in March. And as a result – and as we have previously indicated – some further key changes to our advice will take effect from tomorrow for people who are shielding.
Now the information I am about to give you I know can perhaps be a bit difficult to follow as I am saying it. All of the changes I am about to mention are listed in our routemap for shielders which you can find on the Scottish government’s website.
From tomorrow, you will, if you are shielding, be able to meet indoors with up to 8 people from up to 2 other households, as long as physical distancing is in place.
You will also be able to meet outdoors in groups of up to 15 people from a maximum of 4 other households.
You can also use public transport – including taxis – while wearing a face covering.
You can go to outdoor spaces in pubs and restaurants.
You can go to into indoor shops, pharmacies and indoor markets. You can attend hairdressers and barbers and you can visit museums, galleries, libraries and cinemas.
And children who live with someone who is shielding, can attend formal childcare providers.
Now, all of these changes that I have just mentioned, which you can find more detail on on the website, these will take effect from tomorrow. But our clinical advisers, – who have been closely examining all of the evidence - have also advised us that as things stand right now, assuming no significant deterioration in the position, as things stand right now we will be able to pause the shielding advice all together from 1 Aug.
From that day, the advice for people shielding will then be the same as for those who are simply at heightened risk from Covid – older people, people who receive the flu jab because of a health condition, and people who are pregnant.
This means from the end of next week, you will be advised to follow the guidance for the general population, although we will ask you to be especially careful about hand hygiene and physical distancing.
That will also mean that that children who have been shielding will be able to return to school in August.
And if you have been staying away from your workplace because you have been shielding, you will also be able to return.
However your employer must ensure that you can do so safely.
And of course our advice – not simply for shielding people, but for everyone – remains very strongly that you should continue to work from home whenever that is possible.
I know these changes will be welcome to many of you but they will also, for many of you, create a great deal of anxiety because you have been living in such a restricted way for so long and you will worry about going back to normal and that is completely understandable.
So we are not asking you to stop being careful - and we do not want you to feel under pressure to do anything that you think is unsafe. In fact, we want to do everything we can to help you to feel as safe as possible.
Last month, I indicated that we were looking to develop a range of information and tools to help each of you to make informed decisions about how to stay safe.
We are providing a range of advice on returning to employment and schools. The guidance for schools will be published on 30 July.
For those of you in employment, we have developed a risk assessment tool. That will be available from Monday. It will help your employer understand the adjustments they need to make to help you feel safe.
We are also providing information on what activities are safer, or less risky, than others, and how to undertake them safely. We’ve developed advice on risk factors- and practical information on how to stay safe during everyday activities like going to the shops, visiting friends and family, or using public transport.
You also told us in feedback that you would find it helpful to know what the infection rates are at any given time in your local areas. So we are developing a Covid forecasting service for people who have been shielding. That will allow you to sign up to an SMS update that tells you about your risk of being exposed to Covid in your local area.
And although the food box scheme is ending, you will continue to access priority supermarket delivery slots if you need them, and if you have registered for this service by the end of this month. You will also still be able to go to your Local Authority for support for food provision.
And we will be keeping open our Shielding SMS text messaging service, and our national helpline.
Finally, we are continuing our work to keep you safe after 1 August.
We are strengthening the evidence base about who may need to shield again in the future should we see a resurgence of the virus.
We are continuing our surveys and research to understand your experiences and to offer support that has value to you.
And we will set out the kind of steps we might need to take should there be a spike of infections in the future.
We are changing our guidance now because the infection rate is low now.
But we will continue to monitor this, and if things take a significant turn for the worse – whether nationally or in your local area – we will take the steps we need to in order to keep you as safe as possible. In particular we will contact you and we will give you clear advice on what to do if we are asking you to do anything different.
Before I end, I want to thank everyone who has been shielding. You’ve had to remain in your house and largely apart from all other people, even people in your own household, for months now.
That has been incredibly tough, and it is easy for me to say that when the reality is I actually find it hard to fully imagine just how difficult that must have been. But by doing so, you have protected yourselves, you’ve reassured your loved ones, and helped our health and care services. So a sincere and heartfelt thank you from me to each of you for that.
And I also want to say a few words to people who are not shielding.
Many of you have been actively involved in support for people who have been shielding: whether that is as family, friends, carers, volunteers, council workers, delivery drivers, health and social care professionals, supermarkets, wholesalers, and a whole host of other people so my thanks to all of you for that too.
Secondly - if you are an employer or a school – we need you to work closely with people who have been shielding, in order to take the necessary steps to keep them safe but also to assure them you will keep them safe.
Please do that, reach out to people who have been shielding to understand their needs, and provide that help.
And for all of us, we should understand the worries and concerns of people who have been shielding.
Many people who are shielding will still be nervous about returning to work, or returning to shops and restaurants, or socialising a bit more. All of us should understand that and be as supportive as we can be.
And finally, this is my final point, shielding and shielding people demonstrate again, and perhaps more powerfully than anything does, how all of us are dependent right now on each other’s actions.
The reason that we can pause shielding, hopefully at the end of next week, is because all of us have stuck to the guidance so far. All of us need to continue to do that, in order that we continue collectively to protect those most at risk.
And that basic idea – that all of us, more than ever, are depending on each other, is the note that I will end on.
We can only reopen services, start to reopen the economy again because infection rates are low. We will only be able to keep all these things open if infection rates stay low.
The virus as we know is still out there, it is still highly infectious and it is still highly dangerous.
So all of us have a part to play in keeping it under control. So let me end with the usual advice that I am going to continue to say as often as I need to in order that everybody understands that if we all stick to this we can keep this virus under control.
That is the FACTS message.
- Face coverings in shops, public transport or any enclosed spaces where physical distancing is difficult
- Avoid crowded places, whether that’s indoors or outdoors
- Clean your hands and clean hard surfaces regularly.
- Two metre distancing – that remains the important advice
- and self isolate, and book a test, if you have any symptoms.
If we all follow this advice rigorously and rigidly then the progress we have made over these past painful four months will be progress that we can continue to see.
So my thanks to all of you for doing that, in particular today, my thanks to all of you who have been shielding.
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