- 25 Nov 2020
Good afternoon. Thanks for joining us.
I will give you today’s statistics first of all as usual.
There were 880 positive cases reported yesterday which is 6.8% of the total number of tests that were carried out. That means the total number of confirmed cases so far throughout the entire pandemic is 90,961.
260 of the new cases were in Greater Glasgow and Clyde, 190 in Lanarkshire, 122 in Grampian and 94 in Lothian.
The remaining cases were across 8 other health board areas. 1,161 people are currently in hospital – that is 36 fewer than yesterday. 84 people are in intensive care, that’s the same as yesterday.
And finally, I regret to report that 44 additional deaths have been registered in the past 24 hours of patients who first tested positive in the previous 28 day period. The total number of deaths under this measurement that we use on a daily basis is now 3,588.
However, National Records of Scotland, as it does every Wednesday, has just published its weekly update, that you will recall includes cases where COVID is a suspected or contributory cause of death in addition to those that we report daily where COVID has been confirmed through a test.
Today’s update shows that by Sunday just past, the total number of registered deaths linked to COVID under that wider definition, was 5,380.
244 of those deaths were registered over the course of the last week, that is actually 35 fewer than in the week before.
And that is the first decrease in the weekly number of deaths that we have seen since the end of September. Any reduction in the number of people dying is of course good news, but any feeling of relief that we feel about that must be tempered by a recognition that the number of deaths is still far too high.
160 of last week’s deaths occurred in hospitals, 67 occurred in care homes, and 17 at home or in another non-institutional setting.
Now every single one of those deaths was of an individual who will be right now mourned by friends and family.
So again today, as it is important to do every day, I want to convey my condolences to everyone who has lost a loved one as a result of this virus.
Now I have a couple of issues I want to cover today before I, with Professor Leitch, will take questions from the media.
The first is that literally as we will be speaking here today the Chancellor of the Exchequer will, in the House of Commons, be delivering his autumn statement.
Over the course of this pandemic, the Scottish Government and the UK Government have worked together constructively on many issues and I will come on to talk about arrangements for the Christmas period in a moment and that is one of those issues.
But we have also welcomed several of the Chancellor’s recent decisions; for example the extension of the Job Retention Scheme until the spring.
But we do believe there are several areas where families and businesses are likely, as a result of the pandemic, to continue to need help even after April of next year and that’s when many of the current support mechanisms are scheduled to end.
Now the kind of areas I am talking about would include rates relief for businesses, and the uplift to universal credit for households and individuals.
So we are very much hoping that today’s statement brings clarity and positive news on these issues.
That would be very important in providing certainty as all of us continue to cope with the immediate impact of COVID. And of course it would provide the Scottish Government with greater clarity as we prepare our own budget which will be presented to the Scottish Parliament in January – and that budget will provide more details of the support we are able to provide for businesses and individuals into the next financial year so the more clarity we have from the Chancellor about the overall spending envelope would be very welcome.
Now the second issue I want to cover and perhaps take a few moments to dwell on today is yesterday’s announcement about arrangements for the forthcoming Festive period.
Let me tell you that the Scottish Government will be publishing more detailed guidance fleshing out what we said yesterday, we will do that later this week, hopefully tomorrow, and I will set out some further details in Parliament ahead of the weekly session of First Minister’s questions.
However as you will undoubtedly have heard yesterday the four UK nations decided that for a five day window over Christmas – that means from 23 December to 27 December inclusive - we will relax slightly the current rules on travel and household meetings.
This relaxation will enable you - if you feel it is necessary and that is a point I want to stress and I will come back to that point shortly – if you feel it is necessary the relaxation will enable you to form a bubble of up to three households over that five day period. Now let me stress, if you choose to do that, it has to be just one bubble. You can’t chop and change it over the 5 day period. And none of the households in a bubble can form another bubble with other households.
Now, as is the case with most of these COVID decisions, some of you will think this a reasonable decision that we have arrived at, others of you will think it doesn’t go far enough, and many of you will think it is a terrible decision and it goes way too far and my email inbox has all of these views expressed within it today.
But I think that just reflects a reality that none of what we are dealing with right now, none of what we are seeking to steer and navigate our way through, is straightforward. And speaking as First Minister, as head of the Scottish Government, we agonise over all of these decisions and often we are trying to balance all sorts of different factors and come to, not a perfect outcome, because in a pandemic I am not sure there is such a thing, but come to the outcome that balances best all of these competing factors and desires that people have.
And on this particular occasion what we are trying to do is reflect a reality that for some people, whether I like it or not, sticking rigidly to the current rules over Christmas - if that means, for example, leaving loved ones on their own - is something that some people might not be prepared to do.
So rather than just leave everyone to try navigate that themselves and decide their own boundaries, we came to a decision to try to set out some outer limits and some boundaries that we are asking people to work within.
But and this is the key point. Notwithstanding that decision which is trying to recognise a reality that I have just set out, that does not mean that we are positively encouraging people to get together.
I want to stress today that just because we are allowing people to create a bubble it does not mean you have to do it. And, if you do choose to do it at all you don’t have to do it the maximum permitted.
We are relying on people, as we have been throughout this entire pandemic, but maybe particularly over these next few weeks, we are relying on people across the country, to make informed choices about whether or not to come together at all over the Christmas period.
We recognise that for many people, supporting others and their families by being with them, will be something that they feel is essential. But for others, it won’t be essential, and you might choose this year therefore to mark Christmas very differently to how you normally would.
Because the virus will not have gone away by Christmas and it is really important that I am very straight with you about that and we know bringing people together at home, carries risk. That is why we are asking people not to meet in each other’s homes right now. And of course after 8 months of very hard and very painful sacrifice, of keeping loved ones as safe as possible, and now that we are so close to a possible vaccine, we all have to ask ourselves if that is a risk we personally want to take.
So as I say we will produce guidance to help you come to these decisions and to minimise risks for those of you who do choose to come together albeit in a limited way over the Christmas period.
As I said before we will set out more detail tomorrow. But let me repeat some key points which you will no doubt hear me reiterate over the weeks between now and Christmas.
The first point is this. If you can get through this Christmas staying in your own home, within your own household, please do so. That would be the safest decision and that I guess is the default advice that I am giving to people.
However, If you feel you need to see somebody from another household, please limit that as much as possible.
Remember what I said about the five days, three households. That is the outer limits. That should be seen as a maximum. Stay as far within that as you possibly can.
And if you feel it is essential to see others, think about how you do that think about whether you could do that differently to how most of us traditionally celebrate Christmas, particularly Christmas Day.
So for example and I know this is something I am thinking in my own personal circumstances, instead of meeting indoors for Christmas go for a family walk together, exchange presents on the way, see each other outside. All of this sounds difficult and strange, but we are living in difficult and strange times.
And of course if you are indoors with people from other households during this limited window, keep the literal windows open. Follow all the hygiene rules. It will be difficult to remember that I know, but wash your hands, clean the hard surfaces in the house that you are in and keep a physical distance as much as you can. That will be the hardest thing of all if you are with loved ones. Not hugging them. And trying to keep apart, but it is really important we all remember and don’t allow to go by the wayside these really important rules we have been living by.
The fact that I am stressing all of this, despite the announcement we have made yesterday, underlines that yesterday’s decision was not an easy one in fact it was a really difficult one I am sure for all of the governments involved.
We know that the festive period means a lot to people, it means a lot to us as well as individuals, and we know in particular it can be an especially difficult time to be alone or to feel isolated.
Because of that, many people – in seeking to do the right thing over Christmas – will come to the view that for them that means spending some time with friends and loved ones.
And it is for that reason that we have decided to provide some rules and guidance that will minimise the risks of that. But these rules, if you exercise the flexibility they give you, still have a risk attached to them.
We know that people can be infectious without having symptoms of COVID, so all of us find it really hard to fathom and believe and comprehend that it might be our family gathering that is the one that has a risk attached to it. But it may well be, particularly if you are bringing together people in different generations that risk to vulnerable people can be great and that is exacerbated indoors.
So all of this is difficult. Governments agonise over these decisions and I am sure families will be coming to very difficult decisions as well. We are trying to give a framework in which we can all reach these decisions, but I will continue to ask you to err on the side of caution, to think about the safety of loved ones and not to forget how close we may now be to an end of this pandemic and if you have been making painful sacrifices for eight months to keep those you love safe then think about whether you want to take a risk with their safety at this eleventh hour in this horrible journey that we are all going through.
And one final point I want to stress before moving on to questions is this one.
While we are all thinking about Christmas as is inevitably the case as we get towards December Christmas is still four weeks away and the most important thing we can all do right now – to make not just Christmas as safe as possible but the period after Christmas as safe as possible - is to reduce the number of people that are infectious now and for all of us that means sticking to all of the rules and guidance that is in place right now.