Good afternoon. Thanks for joining us for today’s briefing.
I want to start – as I always do – by updating you on some of the key statistics in relation to Covid-19 in Scotland.
As at 9 o’clock this morning, there have been 10,721 positive cases confirmed - an increase of 200 from yesterday.
A total of 1,754 patients are in hospital with Covid-19 - that is an decrease of eight from yesterday.
A total of 126 people last night were in intensive care with confirmed or suspected Covid 19. That is also a decrease of 8 since yesterday.
These figures continue to give us cause for cautious optimism.
I am also able to confirm today the positive news that since 5 March, a total of 2,448 patients who had tested positive for the virus have been able to leave hospital.
On a much sadder note, I have to report that in the last 24 hours, 70 deaths have been registered of patients who have been confirmed through a test as having Covid-19 – that takes the total number of deaths in Scotland, under that measurement, to 1,332.
Tomorrow of course will see the publication of National Records of Scotland weekly statistics that cover not just those who have die having had a positive test, but those where Covid-19 is a presumed factor in the deaths.
These numbers, as I stress every day, are not just statistics. Behind each of these numbers is a unique and irreplaceable individual whose loss is a source of grief to many. So once again, I want to send my deepest condolences to everyone who has lost a loved one to this virus.
I also want to thank – as I always do and consider it important that we always do – our health and care workers. Everyone across Scotland is grateful to you for the extraordinary work that you are doing.
Many of us will have joined the minute’s silence at 11 o’clock today to honour the frontline workers – including, of course, health and care workers - who have sadly lost their lives while working to tackle this pandemic.
It was a reminder of the selflessness of our health and care workers – choosing to treat and care for others during a time of crisis – and it was also a reminder of the government’s duty to do everything we can to keep those workers safe.
I have two issues I want to update you on today.
The first relates to testing. We have been making steady progress on increasing our testing capacity over the last month – from an initial starting capacity that could cope with 350 tests a day to a capacity of at least 3,500 by the end of this month.
We will give a further update on testing capacity at the end of the week.
As a result of the work we have been doing so far to build capacity, we have already been able to expand testing in some priority areas.
Tests are currently made available and processed within NHS labs for:
- people in hospital with symptoms of Covid-19 and all those in intensive care
- people who have been referred for testing by their local Covid hubs
- people in care homes who have symptoms
- people who are being admitted to care homes
- and key workers in our health and care services and where appropriate their family members. More than 20,000 people in that category have now been tested.
In addition, of course, key workers in other sectors – for example the prison service - are now able to book tests online for the drive through centres established at different locations around the country.
We are today expanding testing further. All NHS Boards are now being asked to put in place procedures to test all those over 70 who are admitted to hospital for any reason - not just those with Covid symptoms.
As we know, the virus can have an especially severe impact on older people. And so although we don’t usually test people without symptoms - because the test isn’t totally reliable in those cases - we do think that there could be a benefit in testing older people both on their admission to hospital and then at intervals thereafter.
So patients in this category will be tested on admission, and then every four days throughout their stay in hospital.
This will help us identify if the virus is being transmitted in hospital, and if so, how and where. It will also help us provide better care for older people in hospital and therefore contribute to our wider efforts to slow the spread of the virus.
The second issue I want to address relates to face coverings, an issue which has attracted lots of attention recently. Guidance on this has just been published on the Scottish Government’s website.
I want to stress at the outset that I am talking here about face coverings made of cloth or other textiles, such as a scarf. I am not talking about medical grade face masks that health and social care workers wear.
The guidance makes clear that the most important step we can all take to prevent transmission of the virus is to comply with the current stay at home, social distancing and hygiene rules.
Face coverings are not - I repeat not - a substitute for any of that.
The guidance also makes clear that the evidence on use of face coverings is still limited.
However, it recognises that there may be some benefit in wearing a face covering if you leave the house and enter an enclosed space where you will come into contact with multiple people and safe social distancing is difficult - for example on public transport or in shops.
Of course just now, most shops are closed so this would apply in particular to food shops.
To be clear the benefit comes mainly in cases where someone has the virus but isn’t aware of that because they are not experiencing symptoms and therefore not isolating completely - so wearing a face covering in these circumstances may reduce the chance of that person transmitting the virus to others.
The Scottish Government is now recommending the use of face coverings in these limited circumstances as a precautionary measure.
Given that the evidence is relatively weak, we are not at this stage making this mandatory or suggesting that it will be enforced, though we will keep that under review as we go into future phases of managing and tackling the pandemic.
And of course it is worth bearing in mind that there are some people - people with asthma, for example - may have very good reasons for choosing not to cover their mouth and nose when they are out and about.
And we are not recommending the use of face coverings for children under the age of two.
However, to repeat we are recommending that you do wear a cloth face if you are in an enclosed space with others where social distancing is difficult, for example on public transport or in a shop.
Let me emphasise the key point here which is that you should not really be in situations very often like that right now if you are complying with the stay at home rules.
The guidance states that there is no evidence at this stage to suggest that there are benefits to wearing a face covering outside, except in unavoidably crowded situations. Again, we are keeping that aspect under review.
The guidance also includes some information on how to safely apply and wash coverings.
When you are applying or removing the face covering, you should wash your hands first, and avoid touching your face. And after each time you wear the covering, you must wash it at 60 degrees centigrade, or dispose of it safely.
The detailed guidance, as I’ve said, is available on the Scottish Government’s website, and the guidance on the NHS Inform website will also be updated very soon.
The most important point I want to stress is this one. The wearing of facial coverings is an extra precaution that you can and, we are suggesting, you should take. It may do some good in some limited circumstances. It is not – and must not be seen as – a substitute for the other rules and guidelines that we have been stressing.
In particular, anyone with symptoms of Covid-19 - and all members of their household, regardless of whether or not they have symptoms - must self-isolate. Guidance on that is available on the NHS Inform website.
And physical distancing, hand washing and respiratory hygiene – covering up coughs with disposable handkerchiefs, or even with your sleeve - remain the most important and effective measures we can all adopt to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
So please, above all else, continue to follow the rules that we have set out.
Stay at home, except for essential purposes such as buying food or medicine, or exercising.
If you do leave the house, you should stay 2 metres apart from other people, and you should not meet up with people from other households.
And you should wash your hands thoroughly and regularly.
I know that sticking to these rules is really, really difficult but it is essential. It is how all of us can help to slow the spread of the virus, to protect the NHS, and continue to save lives. So thank you for sticking with it.
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