Coronavirus (COVID-19) update: First Minister's speech 23 September 2020

Statement given by the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at a media briefing in St Andrew's House, Edinburgh on Wednesday 23 September.

Good afternoon everyone. Thank you for joining us again today.

I will start, as I always do, with giving you the daily statistics for COVID.

The total number of positive cases reported yesterday was 486.

I should point out that is the highest number of positive cases we’ve ever recorded in a single day. However for context, it must be remembered that many more people are being tested now than was the case in the spring.

Nevertheless, today’s number represents 7.8% of people newly tested and takes the total number of cases now to 25,495.

That is obviously a real cause for concern – but it also underlines why we took very decisive and very tough action yesterday to try to get the virus back under control. I will say more about the decisions that we announced yesterday later.

The full regional breakdown will, as always, be published later on this afternoon, but I can confirm now that 224 of the cases were in Greater Glasgow and Clyde, 107 in Lanarkshire and 57 in Lothian. 

It is worth noting that the number for Greater Glasgow & Clyde today is impacted by a significant outbreak at the University of Glasgow.

I will say a bit more about universities and students shortly.

The remaining 98 cases are across the other eight mainland health boards.

I can confirm also that 83 people are in hospital with confirmed COVID – that is an increase of ten on the number I reported yesterday.

Ten people are in intensive care, which is the same number as yesterday.

Finally, I regret to report that in the past 24 hours, two further deaths have been registered of patients who first tested positive over the past 28 days.

That means that the total number of deaths, under this daily measurement, is 2,508.

The National Records of Scotland though has also just published its weekly update. 

To remind you, it includes deaths of people who have first tested positive for COVID in the previous 28 days – that is the same as our daily figures – but it also includes cases where COVID is a suspected or contributory cause of death.

The latest NRS update covers the period to Sunday 20 September. So it won’t include the death I reported yesterday, or the two that I have reported today. 

Up to Sunday, we had recorded 2,505 deaths in our daily figures. Six of those had been registered preceding seven days.

Today’s update shows that, by Sunday, the total number of registered deaths with either a confirmed or a presumed link to COVID was 4,247. Eleven of those were registered in the previous week which is six more than in the week before.

Eight of those eleven deaths took place in hospital, three of them occurred in care homes.

Every single death from Covid – including of course the two I have had the sad duty to report today - represents the loss of somebody who was loved by their families and by their friends. So again today, I want to send my condolences to everyone who is in that situation of having lost a loved one to this virus.

Yesterday, I set out in parliament new restrictions to stem the recent rise in cases – and to try to get the virus back under control.

I will quickly recap on those restrictions in a moment.  

First though I want to just say something about universities and students.

Just as it’s important – and I think we all agree this is important – for children to be back at school and back in education, it’s also important for our students to be back, as far as is possible, at college or university.

But - and this is in no way, shape or form the fault of students and I want to be very clear about that - we do know that student life, the characteristics of student life, present risks of transmitting the virus.

So we need to do everything we can to mitigate against those risks while allowing as far is as possible students to have the experience of college and university that they value so highly.

We have tough guidance in place and we are discussing with the sector today if there are further steps we need to take.

The National Incident Management Team is considering this as well.

And I want to be clear: if we need to strengthen our guidance we will. We strengthened the guidance for schools after schools had been back for a few days in light of the experience. We will not hesitate to do that with the further and higher education guidance too.

But today I want to appeal directly to students for your help in this.

I know that the vast majority of you will already be doing the right things - I want to recognise how tough that is and I want to thank you for it.

But it is also important to underline a key point for students living in halls, or in shared accommodation and who might be watching today’s briefing.

If you are asked to self-isolate - and I know many of you right now are in already in that position -  it’s really really important that you follow that advice. 

As we’ve seen in the past few days, COVID can spread very quickly in shared living settings and halls of residence. 

So please, follow the rules on self-isolation, take all the advice that is given and make sure you do it in the way that is asked. Also please observe all of the FACTS rules at all times when you are going about your daily lives, and please abide by the new restrictions on household gatherings that we announced yesterday.  They apply to students just as they apply to the general population, even though your living arrangements are often different.

Jason is going to say a bit more in a moment about what we are asking of students.

But please – from me for now – please know we appreciate the sacrifices you are making at this really important stage of your lives. It is not yesterday that I was at university, but I still remember what an important stage of life it is and nobody wants you to be living under these restrictions. It is important that you do take care not to put yourselves at risk, and obviously not to inadvertently put other people at risk.

And what we are asking you to do now is for the collective good of everyone, but we do appreciate your sacrifices and I want to thank you for it.

As I said yesterday, the new restrictions taking effect this week are tough, but they are not a full scale lockdown – it is important to remember that. They are designed to try to avoid a lockdown of the type we had earlier in the year.

We hope that by all of us abiding by these restrictions and helping to get COVID under control again, we will be able to keep schools open; we will be able to get non-COVID NHS services up and running again; protect care homes; and safeguard jobs and livelihoods.

These are the things that matter to all of us and obviously they matter to society overall.

But in the face of a pandemic – of a virus that, as yet, has no vaccine and with that virus on the rise again and winter ahead of us - if we are to achieve these priorities we have to make sacrifices elsewhere. No country right now is able to have 100 per cent normality.

So the measures we announced yesterday are tough but they are absolutely essential.

And they are targeted to deal with some very specific factors which we know are helping to drive transmission.

The first relates to household gatherings.

We know from our Test & Protect system that a significant proportion of new cases come from social interactions between different households in our homes.  

And it is clear that once this virus gets into a household through one person, it is likely to infect everybody in that household, and therefore if there is another household visiting it is likely then to pass from one to the other and that is one of the key ways in which we know the virus is spreading.  So we need to deny the virus the opportunity to spread in that way.

That is why from today, we are all being asked not to visit each others’ homes.

That recommendation will be put into law later this week but it is important we all comply with it now.

There are – of course – some limited exceptions as I mentioned yesterday: childcare, extended households and tradespeople for example.

And it is probably worth reminding people because it has been a wee while since we have had to talk about this - extended households are where people who live alone, or live alone with children -  can join with another household. But is has to be the same household all of the time.  It is also important to remember that if any member of an extended household gets COVID, the whole household then needs to isolate.

You can also still meet up with another household outdoors – including in a private garden – as long as there’s no more than six people in the group.

As I mentioned yesterday, there are no limits for children under 12 playing outdoors with their friends.

And young people aged 12 to 17 will be able to meet outdoors in groups of up to six, physically distanced, but they don’t all need to be from just two households. 

That is a tough restriction – not allowing people to visit others’ homes, but it is one of the key ways that we believe we can get control of the spread of this virus. Tough though I know it is for all of us, including me, I am asking everybody to please abide by it.

The second new restriction relates to hospitality.  From Friday, all hospitality premises – pubs, bars and restaurants – will be required to close at 10 pm each evening.

The aim here simply is to reduce the amount of time people are able to spend in licensed premises, thereby again curtailing the spread of the virus in an environment where we know there are higher risks, while still allowing businesses as far as possible to trade and to provide jobs.

However, as I said yesterday, we also need to and intend to ensure that all businesses comply with all of the hygiene, safety and mitigation rules – the vast majority do that already, but it is important that all do and local authorities have powers where necessary to inspect, enforce and indeed close premises if they are not complying. That is something we monitor carefully and take very seriously.

The last restriction we announced yesterday sounds minor, but it is important, and it relates to travelling by car. We know, again from test and protect data, that sharing car journeys presents a risk of transmission. So we are advising against car sharing with people outside your own household if possible – unless there is no alternative. Of course that does not include taxis and there of course we advise people to wear facemasks.

So those are the restrictions we announced yesterday. As I keep saying  because I know it’s true, they are not easy for people to comply with but they have not been imposed lightly and I believe that if we all abide by them they will make a difference in trying to get this virus back under control.

But I wanted to return just briefly to the issue of hospitality. Because many – many of you might be amongst these people – but many people ask me why we don’t just close pubs completely right now. Actually, that is not an unreasonable question.

And as I said yesterday, if the Scottish Government had the power to borrow money or to extend the furlough job retention scheme - so that we could mitigate the impact on jobs - it is very possible, perhaps even likely, that we would have reached a different decision yesterday on hospitality.

But we went as far as we could within the powers that we have.

And that takes me to a general point – and I have thought very carefully about whether to make this point today because it is genuinely not intended to be political or constitutional. I know some people won’t believe that but it is absolutely the case. But it reflects a genuine worry I have as First Minister right now.

And it is that we must not be hamstrung in essential public health decisions by the lack of necessary economic mitigations.

All four UK nations yesterday agreed a joint statement to the effect that we would focus our efforts – and I am quoting from it here - on ‘suppressing the virus to the lowest possible level and keeping it there’. 

That is really positive because it puts aside, hopefully forever, this idea that we can just let this virus run. We must keep it supressed because we know it does real damage in lives and in health. But if that is the objective we signed up to we all have a duty to ensure that our actions live up to it.

We took tough action for Scotland yesterday - tougher than some other parts of the UK - and I believe that the situation we face absolutely merited that.

But there is an argument, and I have heard some experts articulate it even this morning, that all of us across the UK should actually be doing even more right now. There is a danger that what starts to hold us back is not the public health analysis but financial limitations.

So I will be writing to the Prime Minister today - I hope constructively because I recognise that the economic implications of all of this for the Treasury are not easy – but I will be writing asking that we do have urgent discussions to make sure we get to a position where the fear I have described is not the reality.

That either through UK Government action - the extension of furlough for example - or some reasonable but necessary fiscal flexibilities for the devolved governments, through these ways we are all able to reach the decisions we think necessary to suppress the virus and save lives, while also mitigating the impact on jobs.

We are right now, I think, at the most critical juncture since March. In many ways we are in a stronger position because we know more about this virus, but we must make sure we use that knowledge quickly, decisively and urgently. I want all of us to be in the best position, equipped in the best possible way to be able to do that.

To close today, it is probably worth just reflecting on the fact that this is, to the day, six months since we went into lockdown on the 23 March.

None of us would have wanted to mark this milestone against the backdrop of new restrictions.  And I know, and this weighed heavily on my mind all day yesterday and last night, I know so many yesterday myself included probably were feeling a bit downhearted that after all the hard work we seem to be back to square one. I want to stress that is not the case, it is emphatically not the case even though I understand why it might feel like that.

The situation now is not the same in certain respects than the one we faced in March. 

For a start, the action we took to suppress the virus over the summer meant that we have faced this resurgence from a lower base.  That matters and that is entirely thanks to the lockdown restrictions, and all the individual sacrifices everyone has made. 

The rise in new cases, while it is accelerating, is also not as rapid as it was earlier in the year. But we must guard against it becoming so.

We now have a Test & Protect up and running.  It is working well, it’s tracing contacts and breaking transmission chains.

And we’ve learned a lot more about this virus, we still don’t know everything about it, but we know much more about it now than we did in March.  Crucially we know, because we have done it, that though our collective efforts we’re capable of getting it under control.  That is what we need to come together again to do now.

These new restrictions will help us to do that.  But they will only help us do that if each and everyone one of us as individual citizens play our part and abide by them.

So please, comply with all of these restrictions because they will make a difference if we all do.  

If you haven’t already, go to, download the Protect Scotland app. That will help expand the range of people that can be quickly contacted and asked to self-isolate if they may have been exposed to the virus.

Remember at all times, when you are out and interacting with other people, the facts rules:

  • face coverings
  • avoid crowded areas
  • clean hands and surfaces
  • two metre distancing
  • and self-isolate and book a test if you have symptoms of the virus

Finally, remember, that although these times are hard, they will pass. And they will pass a bit more easily, and possibly a bit more quickly too, if we all continue to look out for each other.

So let’s pull together in the same way that served us so well six months ago in March.

Let’s stick with it, let’s stick together. If we keep on doing that – I am not going to tell you it will be easy over these next weeks and possibly months - but I am going to tell you with a great degree of confidence that if we stick with it and stick together we will get through this.

My thanks again for everything you are doing.

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