Coronavirus (COVID-19) update: First Minister's speech 25 August 2020

Statement given by the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at a media briefing at St Andrew's House, Edinburgh on Tuesday 25 August.

Hello everybody and welcome to today’s update. I will start with the usual update on the COVID statistics.

I can tell you that an additional 44 positive cases were confirmed yesterday which is 0.8% of people newly tested, and means that the total number of cases now 19,921.

The full health board breakdown will be available later, but my provisional information is that 7 of the 44 new cases are in Tayside, where of course, we are dealing with the cluster involving the Two Sisters food processing plant.

 I can also confirm that a total of 243 patients are currently in hospital with confirmed COVID which five fewer than yesterday.

And one person is currently in intensive care and that’s the same as yesterday.

Again in the past 24 hours, no deaths were registered of patients who had tested positive in the previous 28 days for the virus. Which means that the number of deaths under that measurement is still 2,492.

This week’s more comprehensive figure, which includes deaths where COVID was either confirmed through a test or presumed will be published by National Records of Scotland tomorrow.

These figures obviously continue to be a stark reminder of the impact this COVID has had and again I want to express condolences to everybody who has been bereaved as a result of it.

And again today my thanks go to everyone who is working hard in a whole number of different ways across the country to help us through this difficult period.

There are three issues I want to cover today.

Firstly, I’ll give just a bit more detail on the main clusters that we are dealing with right now.

In Aberdeen, there are 261 cases associated with the cluster linked to pubs in the city.  That’s an increase of two since yesterday. But it’s worth noting that one of those cases had already been reported – but has only now been linked to the original cluster.

These figures generally point to the good progress that has been made, in containing this outbreak.  And I’m very grateful to everyone in Aberdeen for their patience – and their compliance with the restrictions that have been in place.

In relation to the outbreak linked to the 2 Sisters plant in Coupar Angus, as of yesterday, there were 152 positive cases linked to it – 134 of those were workers of the factory, and 18 were contacts of those workers.

The process of contact tracing there continues.  And so I would expect that we’ll see these numbers rise a bit more in the days to come.

Just to give you some context, over the past six days, the mobile testing unit, at the 2 Sisters plant itself, has tested more than 900 people – and other testing sites in Dundee, Forfar and Perth have, between them, tested more than 2,500 people.

And the bit I want to stress, although I would repeat that we’re not complacent about this, but at this stage there is still no evidence of wider community transmission from this outbreak and that of course is positive, given the scale of the outbreak that we have been dealing with.

I want to thank everyone who is involved in managing it. It’s a huge amount of work that is being done and let me thank also, employees at the factory – and their households - who of course are now self-isolating. 

And let me stress how important it is that people in those households do self-isolate for the entire period advised and that is until Monday 31 August. 

I can understand that there will be a temptation to nip out, maybe to go to a shop or to go to see other people, but please do not do that.  Even if you have had a negative test in the last few days, it is still possible that you could still develop and spread the virus so please follow all of the guidance and stay at home. It is because people are complying with that, that so far we are managing to avoid this outbreak seeping into the community. So please bear with it and stick with it so that we can continue with that success.

Finally, there are a number of cases not least in Lanarkshire, involving individuals who attend schools.  The health protection teams locally are dealing with all of these cases, where necessary they have and will continue to write to parents and carers of children in relevant classes, advising them that their children should self-isolate. 

I want to stress in relation to all of these outbreaks that we’re dealing with just now, and indeed, the situation with schools, we are not unduly concerned by any of these situations right at this moment.  That said, we are not complacent either. As you will appreciate, we will continue to monitor, all cases, clusters and outbreaks very very closely indeed.

The second issue I want to talk about today concerns some issues that people have been over the last day or so in booking tests, through the UK-wide booking system.

Over the weekend, there was a major spike in demand for testing, not just in Scotland, but we think across the UK, and that led to some constraints on the booking portal, throughout the day yesterday.   And that in turn resulted in a surge of calls to our COVID-19 helpline.

I know this will have been frustrating for people trying to book a test. I want to thank you all for bearing with us, as we’ve worked to address these issues and I want to just run through some of the work that is being done to do just that.

Now some of what I would describe as technical issues, for example, people in Scotland being offered tests in centres outside Scotland are being resolved – that shouldn’t be happening. Where any technical issues do arise, as unfortunately with a system of this scale and complexity might sometimes do, we will endeavour to have those sorted as quickly as possible.

On the issue of capacity though, which is the more significant issue, we’ve always known that there will be fluctuations in demand for testing. That’s why we have contingency plans in place and these contingency plans are already, as we speak, being activated.

For example, over the course of this week, we will be deploying three additional mobile testing units, across the central belt of Scotland. The first of these will be operational in Glasgow today, this afternoon, and the other two will be operational later this week.  In total, they will increase capacity by around 1,200-1,500 tests every day.  

We are also, over the course of this week, further increasing the number of tests that can be carried out at the regional testing centres, across the country and we are also utilizing additional NHS testing capacity. For example, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde will be activating drive-through facilities to help manage demand in their local area.

In the more medium term, but already this is work that has been in progress, we are also establishing eleven local walk-through testing centres.  The first of these will be housed in the Victory Memorial Hall in St Andrews. And together, they will help to increase sampling capacity by more than 3,000 tests a day.

So we will continue to implement these plans to further increase capacity as we head into winter, as we have always been preparing to do. But we will also continue work to sure appropriate contingencies are in place for periods when we  have higher than expected demand for testing – which is likely to happen as we go into winter but, at any point, if there perhaps is another virus circulating, a cold that is leading, perhaps in particular, to children having symptoms similar to COVID then we know we will see these spikes in demand and that’s why we need to have these contingencies in place to deal with them.

But let me take this opportunity, just to remind everyone, that you should only book a test, either for yourself or for a family member, if you or they do have one of the COVID symptoms; a new persistent cough, a fever, or a loss of or change in your sense of taste or smell.

The exceptions to that general position of only booking a test if you have symptoms are firstly if you are advised to do by Test and Protect, sometimes Test and Protect will advise people, who have been contacts of confirmed cases but who don’t have symptoms, to go for a test. And secondly, if you work in a profession with agreed access to testing, for example, staff working in schools, but otherwise, only book a test if you have one of the symptoms that we often and regularly remind you of.

Now the third issue I want to cover today is the use of face coverings in schools.

As I said yesterday, our scientific advisory group has been looking closely at this issue – particularly in light of the new World Health Organisation guidance, which was published at the weekend. 

As a result of that work, the advisory group has recommended changes to our current guidance in Scotland.  Their recommendations are based on the latest scientific evidence – as well as the real-life experiences of schools, since they reopened a number of days ago.  And the Scottish Government –  in consultation with the Education Recovery Group – has now agreed the changes proposed.

It’s possibly worth just reminding people of what the current guidance says before I set out what the changes to that are.  In general, the current guidance advises that face coverings in the classroom are not necessary.  However, it says that staff should wear them, if they can’t physically distance, and are having face-to-face interaction with pupils for more than around 15 minutes. The guidance also currently emphasises that staff and pupils should be supported to wear face coverings, if they wish to do so. 

That advice remains unchanged.  However, the new guidance will now include two additional situations where face coverings should be worn. 

Firstly, as I indicated yesterday, adults and pupils in secondary schools should wear face coverings when they are moving around school in areas where distancing is challenging – for example, through corridors or in communal spaces.

And secondly, adults and children aged 5 and over should wear face coverings on dedicated school transport.   That of course simply now mirrors the situation on public transport more generally.

Now in both of these situations, there is a greater potential for different groups to mix.  There is more chance of voices being raised – resulting in the creation of aerosols.  And of course, there is less scope for distancing and effective ventilation. So we believe that face coverings could provide an additional layer of protection, in mitigating these factors.

The guidance will also now emphasise how face coverings can be used to address specific issues - for example, where there is a concern about a particular school, or where there is an outbreak or greater transmission in a particular area.

All of these changes will apply from next Monday – 31 August.   Before then, schools will be expected to provide pupils with clear instructions on the use of face coverings.  

We expect that most children and young people will have access to face coverings already as part of their daily lives.  However, we will work with local authorities, to ensure that schools also have supplies – so that no child is disadvantaged.

There are of course people for whom wearing a face covering is not appropriate – which is why there are already exemptions in place for individuals with breathing difficulties or certain disabilities when it comes to wearing a covering in places like supermarkets. 

So there will also be young people for whom it is not appropriate to wear a face covering in school and schools will of course discuss that with pupils and parents.  But let me be clear that nobody should be stigmatised in a school because they cannot, for one of those reasons, wear a face covering.

We hope that these changes provide some additional assurance to pupils, staff, and parents. We know it’s not easy, none of what we ‘re all having to live with right now, generally or in schools, is easy but it is all about trying to minimise the risk of transmission. And we will of course continue to keep the guidance under review.

I want to emphasise though, and this applies not just in schools but applies more generally, face coverings are just one additional layer of protection.  They are not a substitute for the other things we’re asking people to do. All of the other safety measures –good hand hygiene, regular cleaning, and where possible in schools, physical distancing – remain vitally important.

Of course, that applies not just to people in schools, but to all of us.  So to close today, I want to quickly remind everyone – again – of the key public health guidance.

We know indoor transmission is a risk, we’ve always known that, and we see the evidence of that  coming through our data right now, so can I take the opportunity to remind everybody that when you are indoors, no more than eight people from a maximum of three households should be meeting up.  That applies whenever you are in somebody’s house, or in a pub, a bar or a restaurant. 

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

All of this, if we all follow these rules, minimises our chances of getting the virus and it also minimises the risk of us passing the virus on to others.

And as I said yesterday, and it’s worth everybody bearing this in mind, as Test and Protect operates around the country, if you follow all of these rules, particularly around physical distancing, you are less likely to be a contact, a close contact, of someone with COVID. So you are less likely to get that call from Test and Protect advising you to self-isolate for 14 days.

Let me absolutely bring my remarks to a close now by just reminding everybody of the FACTS rules – the five golden rules that everybody must follow to try to keep this virus under control.

  • 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.

Thank you, once again, for listening today.

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