Coronavirus (COVID-19) update: First Minister's speech 24 August 2020

Statement given by the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at a media briefing at St Andrew's House, Edinburgh on Monday 24 August.

Good afternoon, and thanks for joining us.

I will start with the usual update on the Covid-19 statistics for Scotland.

I can confirm that an additional 66 positive cases were confirmed yesterday.

That represents 1% of the people who were newly tested, and takes the total number of cases in Scotland to 19,877

A full health board breakdown will be available later, but the provisional information I have is that 14 of the 66 new cases are in Tayside, where we are dealing with a cluster involving the Two Sisters food processing plant.

15 are in Greater Glasgow & Clyde, 17 in Lanarkshire and 5 are in Grampian. 

These are health board areas in which we have been dealing with clusters in recent days which is why I am specifically mentioning them.

The remainder of today’s cases are spread across 5 other health board areas.

I can also confirm that a total of 248 patients are currently in hospital with confirmed Covid. That is 3 more than yesterday.

And 1 person is in intensive care, which is 1 fewer than yesterday.

I’m also able to confirm and am very pleased to do so that yet again in the past 24 hours, no deaths were registered of patients who first tested positive over the previous 28 days. The number of deaths under that measurement therefore remains 2,492.

Of course that total in itself should remind us of the impact this virus has had. I once again want to express my condolences to everyone who has suffered loss.

And as always, I want to thank everyone who is working in a whole variety of different capacities to help our country through this pandemic.

Today, I want to cover three issues before the Chief Medical Officer and I take journalist’s questions as usual.

Firstly, I want to recap on the decision we confirmed yesterday to ease restrictions in Aberdeen.

I will then talk about today’s figures, with a particular emphasis on the cluster in Coupar Angus. 

And I will close by briefly talking about the issue of face coverings in schools.

Over the last week, there has been a continued decline in the number of new cases being recorded in Aberdeen and more widely in the Grampian Health Board area.

We were therefore able to agree yesterday the lifting of the restrictions which were put in place for Aberdeen City 2 ½ weeks ago.

That means that from today, our advice on travel - and on meetings in people’s homes - is the same in Aberdeen as in all other parts of Scotland.

We are no longer recommending that people in Aberdeen should stick to a 5 mile limit when travelling for leisure or recreation.

And people in Aberdeen are now able to go into other people’s houses.

However, they must of course continue to stick to the national guidance on this – and just to remind people of what that is, only 3 households can meet indoors, and the maximum group size indoors is 8.

We have also set a timetable for the removal of restrictions in relation to the hospitality in Aberdeen.

Hospitality premises will be able to reopen from Wednesday this week, that is the 26 August – but they should only open, once an environmental health check has been completed by council officials.

Any hospitality business owners in Aberdeen who intend to open on Wednesday - and who have not already been contacted - should get in touch with Aberdeen Council to ensure that they go through the appropriate checks.

In addition, last Thursday I set out a number of nationwide changes to lockdown restrictions which take effect from today. All of these changes should follow the relevant guidance.

I announced that from today, some outdoor live events can now go ahead - with physical distancing, enhanced hygiene and restricted numbers.

Organised outdoor contact sports can resume for people of all ages.

Driving lessons can also resume.

And indoor face to face advice services - for example Citizens’ Advice Bureaux and welfare advice services  – can also open.

Yesterday’s announcement means that the majority of today’s changes also apply to Aberdeen - so it is now possible to have a driving lesson in Aberdeen, or to play a contact sport outdoors.

There are however two exceptions. On Thursday I announced the nationwide reopening of premises and services such as bingo halls, casinos, funfairs and bowling alleys. 

Casinos must remain closed in Aberdeen until Wednesday. 

Other services can reopen – but without selling food and drink for consumption on their premises. They can only open for the sale of food and drink from Wednesday.

And they – like all other hospitality premises –should be subject to an environmental health check.

If business owners in Aberdeen are in any doubt about the status of their premises, they should contact Aberdeen Council for further information.

I am sure that the lifting of restrictions – after what must have felt like a long 19 days – will be very welcome in Aberdeen. I want to  thank all partners in Aberdeen for working so co-operatively with us during a very difficult time.

I want to specifically thank local health protection teams for the immense amount of work that they have done - and continue to do – to make sure that this outbreak is under control.

And most of all, I want to thank the people of Aberdeen.

These restrictions have been effective in beating back this outbreak for the simple reason that you have all complied very well with them - and that’s also the reason that we are now able to lift the restrictions. I know how difficult this last two and a half week period must have been for everybody in the city and you have my grateful thanks for that compliance.

I now want to touch on today’s figures, and specifically the figures for Tayside. As I mentioned earlier and as we’ve been reporting over the past few days, we’re currently dealing with a major cluster of cases based around the 2 Sisters poultry processing factory in Coupar Angus.

As of yesterday, there were 110 positive cases linked to that cluster – 96 were employees of the factory, and 14 were contacts of theirs.

The factory remains closed, and contact tracing continues.

This is a very significant outbreak, and I would expect to see the number of cases rise even further.

Over the last 5 days, the mobile testing unit at the Two Sisters plant has tested almost 900 people – and other testing sites in Dundee, Forfar and Perth have tested more than 1600 people.

There is, however, and this is an important point, at this stage there is no evidence so far of wider community transmission. 

For example I mentioned on Friday that people in the Coupar Angus cluster might have had links to two other food processing factories in Tayside.  So far, no other cases have been identified in relation to those factories.

So once again, I want to thank everyone who has been involved in the contact tracing operation, and indeed everyone who is helping with the wider response.

And finally, and importantly, I want to stress that our guidance for employees of 2 Sisters and their families remains unchanged.

If you work at the plant, you and other members of your household – including children – must self isolate until 31st August.

Support from local authorities is available to help you to do that if you need it. Sticking to that guidance is absolutely fundamental, in helping us to keep the outbreak under control and to ensure that we continue to be able to say, as we can now, that there is no evidence of wider community transmission.

The other cluster I want to update on is at Kingspark School in Dundee. 22 cases in total have been identified there – 17 members of staff, 2 pupils, and 3 community contacts.

Following contact tracing, children from two other Dundee primary schools have also tested positive. Contacts of those children – or their parents and carers - have already been alerted by health protection teams.

For Kingspark school, advice was issued on Friday which remains in place. 

All staff should self-isolate for 14 days from the last day they were on site.

All pupils should self-isolate for 14 days from Thursday, 20 August.

And anyone who lives with a pupil - such as parents, carers or siblings - should self-isolate for 14 days from Thursday, 20 August, if they are unable to maintain physical distancing within the household.

Testing is available for all staff who work at the school. And support and advice is available for everyone involved.

But once again I want to stress the importance of these rules on self-isolation, and to thank everyone for sticking to them. Self isolation is a crucial way, perhaps the most important way of all, of keeping clusters under control and mitigating against wider transmission in the community.

The final issue I want to cover today is face coverings in schools which I know is attracting wide attention and sparking a lot of debate.  Over the weekend, the World Health Organisation issued new guidance on this subject. It said that young people over the age of 12 in schools where physical distancing is not possible, and in areas with high transmission, then face coverings should be recommended.

I said last week that we here in Scotland were looking closely at this issue, and taking advice from our expert advisory group.

By way of update today, I can confirm that the Education Secretary is in the final stages of consulting with teachers and local authorities on a recommendation for the use of face coverings by staff and pupils in secondary schools, when they are moving around in corridors and communal areas.

We are consulting on this specific measure because

  • mixing between different groups is more likely in corridors and communal areas - increasing the potential for transmission;
  • crowding and close contact in these areas is more likely, and voices could be raised - resulting in greater potential for creating aerosol transmission;
  • And finally, there is often less scope for effective ventilation in these areas.

So this is a position, of we conclude it as we expect to do, that would reflect - and actually go slightly beyond - current WHO guidance.

We are also considering the position on school transport and we will set out our conclusion in next few days.

We are not currently consulting on any proposals to wear face coverings in the classroom.

That is because there is greater scope for physical distancing in the classroom, and face coverings are more likely to interfere with teaching.

I would emphasise, however, that where there are outbreaks, it remains an option for Incident Management Teams to recommend more extensive use of face coverings if they believe in a particular area that is required for a period to protect public health and reduce the risk of transmission.

And more generally, the reason why we are consulting at this stage on a limited use of face coverings – and indeed, the reason why we have been able to fully reopen schools - is because of the relatively low levels of transmission we currently see in the community.

That highlights a fundamental point.

The best way to ensure that schools can stay open safely – and that businesses can reopen and stay open – is for all of us to play our part in keeping transmission rates within the community as low as possible.

The way for all of us to help do that is by sticking to the current guidelines, and so that – as always – is the point I want to end on.

This is vital everywhere, but it is especially important in relation to indoor settings - which we know pose a higher risk of transmission.

When you are indoors, no more than eight people, from no more than three households, should meet up.  Those rules apply whether you are in each other’s homes, or in a pub, a bar or a restaurant. 

And you should – at all times – physically distance from members of other households, and remember to wash your hands and hard surfaces.

Doing all of that will reduce your risk of getting the virus.

And it will make you less likely to pass the virus on to somebody else.

And it will also - and this actually is worth bearing in mind right now as our Test and Protect teams are working across the county – following that guidance will also mean that you are less likely to be a close contact of someone with Covid. And that means  you are less likely to be contacted by Test and Protect and advised to isolate for 14 days if someone you know gets the virus.

So please think about the decisions that you are making. And please also help us to get these messages across to your families, and to wider networks of friends and colleagues.

And at all times, remember FACTS - the five golden rules that we should all be remembering as we go out and about.

  • Face coverings in enclosed spaces
  • Avoid crowded places.
  • Clean your hands and hard surfaces regularly.
  • Two metre distancing remains the overall rule.
  • and self isolate, and book a test, if you have symptoms.

These five rules will help all of us play our part in keeping transmission in our communities of this virus low. It will help to enable our Test and Protect teams to do their work effectively and ultimately it will help to protect the NHS and help to save lives.  

So my thanks to everybody for their cooperation with that and please continue to encourage everyone that you know to follow those rules.

Thank you for listening.

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