Coronavirus (COVID-19) update: First Minister's speech 28 September 2020

Statement given by the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at a media briefing in St Andrew's House, Edinburgh on Monday 28 September.

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Good afternoon, and thanks for joining us.

I will start with the usual run-through of statistics for COVID-19.

The total number of positive cases reported yesterday was 222.

This represents 6.9 % of people newly tested, and takes the total number of cases to 27,798.

The full regional breakdown will be published later, but I can confirm that 54 of the cases were in Lothian, 53 in Greater Glasgow and Clyde, and 37 in Lanarkshire. 

The remaining 78 cases are across 9 other health boards.

I want to add a note of caution around these figures.

222 is the lowest number of new cases we have seen for some time, and is lower than we had been expecting. It is likely to be a weekend effect, however Health Protection Scotland are therefore checking to see if there are any issues which would explain this. We will publish further details when we have them.

I can also confirm that 122 people are in hospital – that is an increase of 17 from yesterday.

16 people are in intensive care, which is 4 more than yesterday.

I want to draw attention to these figures – although I concede that these figures are not as a high as at the start of the pandemic, the number of people in hospital is rising. I don’t say this to alarm people but I hope people will take this rise in cases seriously, and understand that we must collectively do everything we can to stem that rise and get the virus under control.

And finally, in the last 24 hours, 0 deaths have been registered of a patient who first tested positive over the previous 28 days. It is however worth remembering that registration offices are closed on Sunday, and so this is to be expected.

Since the last briefing on Friday, two additional deaths have been registered.

That means that the total number of deaths, under the measure used in our daily figures, is now 2,512.

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

The main issue I want to update you on today is the latest guidance that we have issued for students. And I want to start with a thank you.

 It is clear that the vast majority of university students, over the weekend, stuck to the rules on not meeting other households indoors - and also followed the advice on not going out to pubs, cafes and restaurants.

Sticking to guidelines like that isn’t easy - especially in the early days of a university term. But it will make a difference.

The incubation period for this virus means, I am sure, that we will continue to see high numbers of infections amongst students for several days to come. And there will always be a need for vigilance.

But the responsibility you have shown over the last few days, will help to stop the virus from taking off. I want to thank you for that.

Yesterday, we published new guidance for students who are thinking about returning home.

That guidance has been developed in consultation with the National Union of Students in Scotland, together with Universities Scotland and others.

Essentially, it offers additional advice on three different issues – returning home for a short visit; returning home while self-isolating; and returning home on a more permanent basis.

For any students who are thinking about returning home for a short visit, the key thing to remember is that if you have formed a new household within your student accommodation, you cannot stay overnight in another household. Unfortunately, that includes your parents’ house. This is not a rule that just applies to students.

So, like the rest of us, you can only meet your parents - or carers, or other family members, or friends - outdoors, or in a public indoor space such as a pub or café.

There should be no more than 6 people in total in the group, from no more than 2 households.

There are possible exceptions to that – for example if you have caring responsibilities, or for childcare.

And of course a family emergency - such as a bereavement - could also constitute reasonable grounds for visiting indoors. 

However in general, our rule just now, for all of us, is that you cannot meet other households indoors.

I know that these rules are tough, but they apply to everyone - not just students. We believe the restrictions are necessary to reduce the risk of the virus spreading between different households.

The guidance also provides advice for students who are required to self-isolate.

Wherever possible, students who are self-isolating should stay within their student accommodation. That is the best way to stop the virus spreading.

If you require support, please first of all contact your college, university or student accommodation provider. They are there to help you and they have a responsibly to do so.

And further information on support available can be found at the Student Information Scotland website.

However we recognise that – even with support in place – some students may feel that they need the help and care of a friend or family member. That could for example be for reasons relating to physical or mental health, or finances.

If that is the case, then you are allowed to move to another household to complete your self-isolation period.

However I would caution that that is not a decision to be taken lightly.

If you decide you absolutely have to move to the family home to self isolate, you should avoid using public transport.

And, crucially, the other members of your new household – mum, dad, brothers and sisters of all ages – have to self-isolate for 14 days from the time you arrive there.

We cannot afford to have the virus spread through the country, so it is important that you think about the impact of returning home to self-isolate. 

These are very difficult choices – just like those we all face every day in this pandemic.

Self-isolation is not easy in any circumstances, and it is maybe especially difficult sometimes in student accommodation.

As I have made clear, our default advice is that students should stay in their accommodation while self-isolating if at all possible.

But for students who need to move to another household, I hope that our guidance provides some additional clarity on how this can be managed as safely as possible.

The final set of circumstances covered by the guidance is for people who want to return home on a longer-term basis. In other words, they want to stop living in their student accommodation, and move permanently back to their parents’ house, or some other household.

If you are thinking about doing this, and are currently self-isolating, then the rules on self-isolation that I have just spoken about will still apply to you and all members of your new household.

More generally, for anyone who is considering this step, you should think about whether it will affect your access to in-person learning - if your college or university is offering this. 

You should also consult your college or university to discuss your decision. And you should think about whether you want to go now - or if you want to take a few more weeks before making such an important long-term decision.

The final point I want to mention is that I understand why people are concerned about Christmas – however please do not assume that the rules in place now for home visits will still apply over Christmas.

We review the rules every three weeks – and so we cannot produce guidance for Christmas right now, since that will partly depend on the future course of the pandemic.

However let me be clear that it is our priority to make sure that students can return home for Christmas.

Overall - as I have mentioned - this guidance has been developed in consultation with student representatives. And essentially, in difficult circumstances, it tries to strike a balance.

We want to encourage students to remain living in their current accommodation where that is possible.

We believe that for many students what will give them the best chance - over the course of the term - of benefiting from some in-person learning where that is possible. It also provides the best opportunities – despite the restrictions – of building new networks and making new friends.

However, we know that many students are, understandably, struggling at the moment. It’s really tough not being able to see your family at home at a time like this.

So this advice explains the circumstances in which students can go home, and what factors they should consider when taking that decision.

 I would encourage students to read it – it is available on the Scottish Government’s website – and I hope that it helps students to make choices which best help their health and wellbeing.

We will continue to look at the guidance and build in flexibility where that is possible.

Finally, I want to stress again that the reports we have heard over the weekend suggest that the vast majority of students have coped well in incredibly difficult circumstances- and have complied with guidance which would have seemed almost unimaginable even a year ago.

I do not underestimate how tough all of that is – and I am hugely grateful to students for the way in which they are helping us all, in our efforts to tackle Covid.

And as well as thanking those students who stayed in this weekend, I want to thank all those who respected the new rules on hospitality. 

There have been very few reports of any public health or public order difficulties around the new closing time.  

That is a reflection on the levels of co-operation we have seen from hospitality businesses and customers across the country.  

Sticking to these new rules will of course be crucial in helping us to keep the virus under control.

So I want to end, as I usually do, with a thank you to everybody but also a run-though of the current rules and guidance.

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

When we do meet other households – outdoors, or indoor public places such as pubs or restaurants - we must not meet in groups of more than six people from a maximum of two households.

Young people aged 12 to 17 are exempt from the two household limit—they can meet outdoors in groups of up to six, but should still physically distance from one another. Children under 12 are not included in the limits outdoors.

In addition to those rules, there are other steps all of us can take to help to reduce the spread of the virus.

Think about limiting your visits to, and social interactions in, pubs and restaurants. Since Friday, of course, those premises have had to close at 10pm.

Work from home if you can and employers should facilitate that where possible.

Download the Protect Scotland app, if you can.

And finally, remember the 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.

By following these rules, we can help to control the virus. And we can all protect ourselves and each other.

So thank you once again to everyone who is doing that.

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