Good afternoon everyone. Thank you for joining us for today’s briefing.
I want to start as I always do with an update on some of the key statistics, in relation to COVID-19 in Scotland.
As at 9 o’clock this morning, I can confirm that there have been 10,521 positive cases confirmed, which is an increase of 197 from yesterday.
A total of 1,762 patients are currently in hospital with either confirmed or suspected COVID-19, that is an increase of 27 from yesterday.
A total of 134 people last night were in intensive care with confirmed or suspected COVID-19. That is an increase of one since yesterday.
I should say at this point that despite these occasional fluctuations, overall these statistics for hospital and intensive care admissions still give us cause for cautious optimism.
I am also able to confirm today that since 5 March, a total of 2,380 patients who had tested positive for the virus have been now able to leave hospital, and I wish them well.
On a much sadder note, I have to report that in the last 24 hours, 13 deaths have been registered of patients who had been confirmed through a test as having the virus, and that takes the total number of deaths in Scotland, under that measurement to 1,262.
It is worth highlighting again, indeed it’s important that I do so, that although people can now register deaths on Sundays, we do know that from recent weeks that the figures that we report on Mondays, of deaths which were registered on a Sunday, tend to be relatively low. That means the figure I report tomorrow maybe significantly larger than today’s.
And of course, once again, I want to stress and indeed reflect on the fact that the numbers I read out here every day are not just statistics.
They are individuals whose loss is a source of grief and distress to family and friends. 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, our health and care workers, who continue to do extraordinary work in the most difficult of circumstances.
And again, place on record my thanks to essential workers the length and breadth of the country, whose dedication each and every day is helping to keep vital services running.
Tomorrow, on international workers’ memorial day, the Scottish Government will join a minute’s silence at 11am to honour those frontline workers.
Particularly, though of course not exclusively, health and care workers, who have sadly lost their lives while working to tackle this pandemic.
I invite all of you at home, and those taking part in essential work across the country, to join us at that time tomorrow.
The silence will provide an opportunity to pay tribute to those who have died as a result of their work to serve, care for and save others.
It will be a further reminder that, of all the duties government bears during a situation like this, the most vital is our obligation to help to keep care and health workers safe.
I want to stress again today that I and the Scottish Government are acutely aware of that responsibility, and will work each and every day to do everything we can to fulfil that obligation.
I have two things I want to comment on this morning. The first is to reflect a little bit more on some of the statistics I have just reported.
I know that it might not feel this way, since the numbers that I am reporting each day, particularly those on the number of people who are dying, are always far higher than we want them to be – but it is nevertheless the case that we are now seeing some real signs of progress.
The number of people in intensive care has fallen by around a third in the last fortnight, from the figure I would have reported to you two weeks ago today.
The number of people in hospital, which was rising sharply in the first 10 days of this month, has also now broadly stabilised and the trend there may also now be a downward one.
Our NHS, while working incredibly hard and in the most difficult of circumstances, has not been overwhelmed, which just a few weeks ago we really feared that it might be.
Of course, we are not yet seeing a definite fall in the number of people who are dying each day from the virus.
However, as we have always said, because of the way the illness progresses, that will be the last daily number that we do start to see declining, and we hope to see that in the next couple of weeks.
But we do have evidence that the actions that all of us, all of you watching at home are taking, are making a real and a positive difference.
Your efforts are working, so again today I want to thank you for that.
However, and I realise that this is a less welcome and much more difficult point for me to make, this progress remains very fragile and now is a time for all of us to exercise careful caution. It is certainly not a time to throw caution to the wind.
The margins we think we are working within, in respect to the reproduction number – that crucial R number that I spoke about last week, are very narrow.
At this stage, even a slight easing up in the restrictions in place now, could send the reproduction rate back towards or above one, and the virus would then start to spread very quickly again.
Within days of that, all the indicators that are suggesting progress now, would start to go in the wrong direction again.
That would mean more cases, more hospital and intensive care admissions and sadly, more deaths.
So for all our sakes, and to protect the progress that together we’ve made, all of the restrictions currently in place need to remain in place, for now.
The job is not done yet – we need you to stay the course for a bit longer.
Of course, we are now thinking about the ways in which we can begin to ease the lockdown a bit when it is safer to do so, although we can’t yet put dates on any of that.
And as I said last week, lifting lockdown will not be a flick of a switch moment. We will instead be considering gradual and careful variations.
It important and necessary to do that work now, and we are doing that work now, and as I said last week, I think it is really important to engage you in that work in an open and transparent way.
So I can confirm that in the coming days, I will say more about the different options under consideration, and how we are going about assessing those.
But let me stress again that the current restrictions are still in place. We have to stick with them for now, in order to be able to relax things in future.
As well as the impact on all of us as individuals, I absolutely understand the anxieties of business, and I am acutely aware of the social and health impacts of economic damage.
But let me make this point – a premature easing up on restrictions, if it led to the virus running out of control again, would not help your business or the economy. In fact, it would make the economic damage even worse.
That’s why I am asking businesses as well as individuals to continue to do the right things, as indeed the vast majority of you have been doing already, for which you have my deep gratitude.
So if you are a business on the list of those required by law to close, then obviously you should remain closed.
But if you are not in that category but chose to close voluntarily at the start of the lockdown, and are now thinking of reopening – our view is that you should not contemplate doing so, unless you can comply fully with existing guidance, and are able to change your working practices to ensure safe social distancing at all times.
The precautionary principle that I have spoken about before still applies, for the protection of your workers and for your customers.
And for all of us, not just businesses. If you are now going out and about a little bit more than you were at the start of the lockdown, then you really shouldn’t be.
Because you might be putting yourselves, and your loved ones at risk.
Fundamentally, the basic restrictions of lockdown continue to apply.
You should only leave home for essential purposes like buying food or medicine, or exercising.
If you do leave the house, you should stay two metres apart from other people, and not meet up with people from other households.
And you should wash your hands thoroughly and regularly.
As I say every day, I know that all of this is difficult, and I know that it gets more difficult with every day that passes but it remains essential.
As I’ve said many times, and again today, any easing up right now would risk us seeing the virus surge upwards again.
So please, please stick with it, so we can continue to make progress together, and accelerate hopefully, the stage at which we can begin a process of restoring some normality to our lives.
The other issue I want to very briefly update on relates to skills.
Skills Development Scotland have updated their 'My World of Work' website to help people find free courses.
This new service has been developed with the support of the Open University in Scotland, and it highlights free courses run by 12 providers in areas like digital technology, business studies, and languages.
In the coming weeks and months, we will expand the range of courses available, by working with colleges and universities.
We are also working with the UK Government and the other devolved administrations, who are all developing similar initiatives, in order to highlight the courses they offer.
I‘m aware that doing courses like this may not be an option for everyone. If you have caring responsibilities, or if you have volunteered to help others, time to study might be pretty limited.
But for some people, maybe especially, though not exclusively, people who are currently furloughed, or have been made unemployed, it could make sense to develop new skills during this period.
We hope that this initiative will help people to do that, safely and free of charge.
It’s a good example of the importance of digital public services, and I’m grateful to Skills Development Scotland for establishing this site so quickly.
The courses are open to anyone. So if you are interested then go to myworkofwork.co.uk where you will find the free courses under the ‘Learn and train’ section of the main menu.
That concludes my update for today. Before I pass on to the Chief Medical Officer, and then the Health Secretary, I simply want to end by thanking again each and every one of you for doing the right thing, and staying at home.
I know it’s difficult, but it is as I hope I’ve demonstrated today, also making a difference.
The steps we are all taking are helping to slow the spread of the virus, as we wanted to do.
They are helping to protect the NHS as we wanted to do, and they are, notwithstanding the figures I have to report to you every day, helping to save lives.
So please stick with them, and thank you for doing so.
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