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

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

Good afternoon, and thanks for joining us.

Before I start this morning I want to acknowledge the dreadful news from Croydon in South London, of a police officer being shot dead.

The circumstances are obviously subject to investigation but I want to take the opportunity to convey my deepest condolences to all of the officer’s loved ones.

This is a heartbreaking reminder of the dangers police officers confront every single day on our behalf - and of the enormous debt of gratitude we owe them as a result of that.

And - especially with the Chief Constable of Police Scotland standing next to me - it is important for me to acknowledge that every day, but particularly in the wake of such upsetting and tragic news.

Let me now turn to the usual run-through of statistics for Covid today.

The total number of positive cases reported yesterday was 558.

This represents 9.5% of people newly tested and takes the total number of cases to 26,518.

The full regional breakdown will be published later, but I can confirm that 255 of the cases are in Greater Glasgow and Clyde, 119 in Lothian and 61 in Lanarkshire. 

The remaining 123 cases are across nine other health boards.

Now, today’s figures are impacted by a number of university outbreaks - and I’ll say more about that later.

But notwithstanding this I also want to stress that no one should be under the impression that the Covid threat right now is just a university problem and that there’s no need for the rest of us to take this seriously.

Transmission of Covid is increasing generally across the country - and the increase in cases started before the return of universities. So the numbers right now are impacted by universities but it doesn’t change the fact that this is a risk that all of us need to take seriously and we all need to follow the advice.

I can also confirm that 89 people are in hospital – that is an increase of four from yesterday.

11 people are in intensive care, which is one more than yesterday.

And in the past 24 hours, no deaths have been registered of a patient who first tested positive over the previous 28 days.

I want to just insert one note of caution around that. National Records of Scotland who report those figures to us suffered a power outage this morning so it is possible that we will have to modify that figure later on but based on the information I have just now no deaths were registered over the past 24 hours.

That means that the total number of deaths, under the measure used in our daily figures, remains 2,510.

That total serves once again as a reminder once again of the overall impact of this virus. As usual I want to pass on my condolences to everybody who has lost a loved one.

I’m joined today by the Chief Constable Iain Livingstone, and our Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Nicola Steedman.  

In a few minutes, the Chief Constable will talk about new restrictions that are now in place – and how they’ll be enforced.  Dr Steedman will also talk about the importance of people going for their flu jabs in the days and weeks ahead.

The main thing I want to do today is to speak to Scotland’s students – and to set out what we are asking you to do right now, to help control the spread of coronavirus.

First, though, I want to draw your attention to an announcement that was made last night.

The Scottish Government has added four additional countries to the list of those that are subject to quarantine restrictions.  Those countries are Denmark, Iceland, Slovakia and Curacao.

It means that from tomorrow, people travelling to Scotland from these places must self-isolate for 14 days, upon their return.

This is another reminder of how quickly levels of the virus – in any country or area – can change. So I’ll say again, please avoid non-essential overseas travel at the moment. In fact, please think carefully about unnecessary travel anywhere right now. That advice applies – not just now – but also to any plans you might have for the October school break.

Let me turn now to the main issue I want to address today.   

I want to send a message directly to university students - and indeed to parents, many of whom will be worried about their children at universities just now.

I’m not a parent but I am the devoted auntie of a boy who has just started university and is living away from home for the first time so I do have some insight into the anxiety that people are feeling right now.

The government is having to make some really tough decisions right now but none of us are immune from the impact of those decisions and we understand how difficult they are for people because we have families as well.  

First thing I want to say direct to students is I’m so sorry that this time in your lives is being made so tough.

I feel for all of you - but especially those of you just starting university and living away from home for the first time.

This is an exciting time in your lives but I can remember from my own experience, that this is also a time of adjustment and probably a bit of homesickness too. That would be the case without Covid, but I’m sure it’s much more difficult given the circumstance you are having to deal with right now.

And I want to also be clear, because I know some of you feel like you are somehow being blamed, you don’t deserve to be facing this - no one does - and it’s not your fault.

But - and this is just as important – this won’t last forever. And the quicker we get Covid back under control, the sooner you will get to enjoy a more normal student life.

So - I know it’s difficult - but please do what’s being asked of you just now.

Because although Covid is nobody’s fault - we all have to play our part in tackling it. And there is nobody across the country that is not touched by that, there are many families who haven’t seen loved ones in care homes for a considerable period of time, there are families across the country that are not able to spend time with each other right now. Everybody is feeling the effects of this but we all have to play a part to get through what we are facing.

There’s been a lot of discussion about the Universities Scotland advice that issued last night. So let me boil it down to the basics of what it is we are asking students to do.

Firstly if you live in student or shared accommodation, please don’t have parties and don’t socialise in your accommodation with people who are not in your household group.

I know the impact of this on students is a bit harder because of your shared living arrangements but this advice is actually no different to what we are asking of the population as a whole - to stay out of each other’s houses - and it’s because we know the virus can spread easily when different households mix together indoors in domestic environments.

And secondly, but just for this weekend, we are asking students to please stay away from pubs, restaurants and cafes.

The reason for this is that there are a number of campus outbreaks across Scotland and we want to do everything we can to stop them spreading further. And staying away from hospitality this weekend is one of the ways in which students can help.

The incubation period of this virus means that the exposure people have had in the last few days means that we will see campus cases continue to rise in the days to come. But if we take steps now to limit the interaction over the next few days we can help stem that flow and make sure outbreaks don’t spread any further. So that’s the reason for that advice this weekend.

After this weekend, we’ll ask the same of you as of everyone else. Try to limit your social interactions in pubs and hospitality but when you do go, you should be in groups of no more than six from a maximum of two households.

We are also asking students to download the Protect Scotland app.  It isn’t mandatory – but it is strongly encouraged, and your university can ask you to do so – because, particularly when you may not know everyone you are meeting, it is an effective way of alerting people that they have been in contact with someone who has tested positive for Covid. In the last two weeks, more than 800 people have been notified by the app to isolate.

And lastly if you are asked to self-isolate as a student because you have tested positive or are a contact of someone who has, please follow the advice. It is really important.

In all of this, your university has a big responsibility to look after your welfare and make sure you are okay. I have spoken personally this morning to university principals, to stress their responsibilities to you - and I know this is something that they take seriously but it is also something  parents will want to be assured of too.

Student services already have special arrangements in place, including 24-hour helplines, support for food deliveries, and additional mental health counsellors, for those who might need that support.  

I am grateful to all of those – including the many student volunteers - who are helping to provide practical and emotional support in this way.

One final point I want to address today but we’ll say more about this over the weekend. We are aware that for some students who have been asked to self-isolate, they might be finding that situation so difficult that they want to go back to their family home to complete the period of self-isolation.  

Now I’m going to be frank. That is a difficult balancing act because if you go home after you have been asked to self-isolate that will have implications for your family who may also have to self-isolate if oyu test positive. But I wanted to let you know today that we are looking at what might be possible there and it is our aim to issue some further guidance on that over the weekend.

The key point to stress is that help is there for you if you need it just now so if you need it please ask for it. 

The final thing I want to say to students today is thank you. Thank you to all of you, just like everybody else across the country you are bearing a burden that I desperately wish you didn’t have to be bearing right now but you are being part of our collective effort to beat Covid back. And for that you have my thanks and deep appreciation.

Now, I’ve focussed primarily today on what is being asked of students and I think it’s important that we do focus on that today.  But of course, all of us have a role in getting this virus back under control.

The regulations for the new household and hospitality restrictions come into force today.   And as I said earlier, the Chief Constable will say a few words about their enforcement, shortly.

For now, I want to remind everyone of what the restrictions are.

With some limited exceptions, none of us should be visiting each other’s homes at the moment.

Outdoors or in public indoor spaces, we must not meet in groups of any more than six people from a maximum of two households. Children under 12 are not included in these limits outdoors so they can play with their friends and young people aged 12 to 17 are exempt from the two household limit they can meet outdoors in groups of up to six but all six people don’t have to be from just two households.

From today, all hospitality premises will close by 10 pm to try to reduce the amount of time people are spending in licensed premises.  Beyond that, we are asking people to limit visits to and social interactions in pubs and restaurants as far as possible.

These measures are tough, I know they are tough but they are necessary if we are to keep schools open, resume more non-Covid NHS services, keep care homes safe and protect jobs.

The danger – if we don’t act now – is that the virus will continue to spread, and even more severe or longer-lasting restrictions will be required later.

So please, follow the new rules – they will make a difference.

Limit your interactions with others.

Download the Protect Scotland app. 

And finally, remember FACTS –

  • Face coverings
  • Avoid crowded places.
  • Clean hands and hard surfaces
  • keep Two metres away from other households.
  • and Self isolate, and book a test, if you have symptoms.

I don’t underestimate how difficult this is for everybody and it is more difficult six months in than it was even when we were under strict lockdown back earlier in the year but this is essential.

I we all pull together and do the right things for ourselves and each other we will get through it more quickly than we will otherwise.

My deep thanks to everybody for all of the sacrifices that you are making and perhaps particularly today because of the issues that I have been talking about my special thanks to students at our universities.

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