Coronavirus (COVID-19) update: First Minister's speech 29 July 2020

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

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Good afternoon everyone thank you for joining us.

As usual I will start with the most recent statistics on Covid.

I can report that an additional 22 positive cases were confirmed yesterday. That represents 0.7% of those who were newly tested yesterday, and it takes the total number of cases in Scotland now to 18,580.

The health board breakdown of these new cases will be available later but my provisional information is that 14 of the 22 are in Greater Glasgow & Clyde area.

I have also been advised that a possible cluster of cases is currently under investigation by Greater Glasgow & Clyde.

An Incident Management Team meeting will take place later this afternoon, which I hope will give more detail, and an update will be provided after that. But I want to give an assurance today as I always do that all new positive cases are thoroughly investigated for any links and Test and Protect of course gets to work to make sure that all contacts are appropriately traced.

I can also report today that a total of 260 patients are currently in hospital who have been confirmed as having the virus. That is 4 fewer than yesterday.

And a total of 2 people last night were in intensive care with confirmed Covid and that is no change on the figure yesterday.*

Finally, I am very pleased to say that yet again during the last 24 hours, no deaths were registered of patients confirmed through a test in the previous 28 days as having COVID-19. The total number of deaths, under this particular measure, therefore remains 2,491.

In addition though, National Records of Scotland has just published its regular weekly report. Unlike the daily figures, it includes deaths of people who have been confirmed as having Covid by a test within the previous 28 days.

But the NRS report also covers cases where the virus has been entered on a death certificate as a suspected or contributory cause of death - even if its presence was not confirmed by a test, or if the test had been more than 28 days previously. That is a wider measure, and therefore captures more cases and between our daily figure and the NRS report, let me be very clear that all deaths that are associated with Covid either on a confirmed basis or suspected or contributory are captured and reported.

The latest NRS report covers the period to Sunday 26 July. Let me remind you at that point, according to our daily figures, 2,491 deaths of people who had tested positive for the virus had been registered but none of those deaths were registered in the 7 days up to Sunday.

Today’s NRS report shows that, by Sunday, the total number of registered deaths with either a confirmed or a presumed link to the virus was 4,201. Of those, 8 were registered in the seven days up to Sunday. That is an increase of 2 from the week before.

National Records of Scotland has also reported that the total number of deaths recorded last week – from all causes not just the virus - was 24 lower than the five year average for the same time of year.

Now I want to say just a bit more about the fact that the number of Covid deaths rose very slightly last week – especially given that we reported no deaths at all over that period in our daily figures. 4 of the 8 deaths reported by NRS were in hospital; 2 were in care homes; and 2 were in other settings – for example at home.

Now the reason why the 4 deaths in hospitals weren’t captured by our daily figures, is that those daily figures –as I’ve mentioned already today– record people who have died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid.

However some people who test positive receive care for more than 28 days afterwards, but sadly some of them do not manage to recover.

So if these people die after the initial 28 days, but have Covid recorded on the death certificate as a contributing factor, then they would be included in the NRS report, but not in the daily figures but again that is to give you assurance that all deaths associated with Covid are being captured and reported between our daily figures and the National Records of Scotland report .

I want to make just two more general points about today’s figures, .

First obviously, any increase in deaths, however small it might be, is regrettable and very unwelcome . But when we have very low levels as we do now thankfully - fluctuation is to be expected.

However, the second point is this one. These figures are a reminder of the continuing impact of the pandemic – and of the fact that, despite the progress we have undoubtedly made, we should never underestimate how cruel a virus this can be.

We’ve always got to remember that every single life lost to this illness, is of an individual who is being mourned by friends and loved ones. I want to send again today my condolences to everyone who is grieving as a result of Covid.

I also want, as always, to thank our health and care workers for the extraordinary work you continue to do, in what remains very testing circumstances. You have mine and the entire Scottish Government’s gratitude for that.

Now, I have two other issues that I want to briefly update on today and both of them relate to further improvements to our presentation of Covid data.

We have had some discussions with the other nations of the UK about providing regular and consistent reports on the distribution of personal and protective equipment, PPE. Our first report will be published on the Scottish Government website today.

That shows that in the past week alone, more than 16 million items of PPE have been distributed across Scotland by National Services Scotland. These include almost 12 million gloves, 3 million masks, and nearly 1 million aprons. In total, since the 1 March, more than 362 million items have been distributed.

These figures give some idea of the scale of the ongoing work to ensure that health and care workers have the equipment they need to keep them safe and I am grateful to everyone involved in that effort.

In addition, from 2pm today, Public Health Scotland will be presenting a much wider range of Covid information on its website. And doing so, in what I hope you will find to be, a more accessible format.

It will publish our new Covid dashboard which will include summary data of recent cases and deaths, broken down both by health board and by local authority area.

And it includes much more detailed information according to the date of someone’s test result, and also the date on which people have sadly died. So you can, for example, find out exactly how many women or men within a certain age range, tested positive in Scotland on a specific day.

We know from the information requests that we receive, that there is a desire from many people to have easier access to more detailed data about the pandemic – both in terms of the current position, and of course the risk we will continue to face in the weeks ahead but also in terms of how the pandemic has developed over the past few months.

We hope that the new dashboard will help anybody who is interested, to see data about the pandemic in their area or across the whole of the country.

One of the features of the dashboard is that it will use local data to colour-code local authority areas, based on the proportion of neighbourhoods which exceed 55 confirmed cases per 100,000 over a seven-day period.

An average-sized neighbourhood on the map – which would have about 4,000 people - would need to have three cases in the previous week to exceed that limit.

That figure is considerably higher than the current prevalence of Covid within the population, and so - in contrast to the peak of the pandemic - many local authority areas are currently likely to be shown as having no neighbourhoods above that threshold.

That, however, should not be taken as a sign that there is no cause for concern or a signal for any of us to be complacent and I want to stress that very clearly.

The new figures will show, as the figures I report every day right now thankfully show, that Covid is at low levels in Scotland and we have all worked very hard to get to this position. But we also know from the case numbers I have reported today for example that the virus is still circulating in Scotland. And the clusters we have seen, and undoubtedly continue to see, demonstrate how quickly the virus can spread again, if we give it the opportunity to do so.

In addition to that as I was talking about yesterday, news reports from other countries - in Europe and around the world – remind us of how easily progress against Covid can start to go into reverse.

For that reason, when I announce the outcome of the Scottish Government’s formal review of the Covid restrictions in Parliament tomorrow, I’m likely, very likely, to adopt a very cautious approach.

We have made some very significant changes over the last three weeks – including the resumption of indoor hospitality and tourism, and it is still too early to be completely assured about the impact of these or hopefully the absents of the impact of these.

And we also intend to make some very major changes over the next three weeks – for example I hope I can confirm tomorrow the pausing of shielding at the end of the month, and as you know it is our central objective for the next three weeks to get schools back full time from 11 August.

Ensuring that those changes can take place, without raising the prevalence of the virus too far, is not going to leave us very much room for many other immediate changes.

I know sometimes what appear to be anomalies right now, about what is allowed and not allowed can seem confusing - although I would assure you that there are rational explanations for what might appear on the surface to be inconsistencies.

But more fundamentally, and this is a key point that I want to leave you with, we can’t just look at whether an individual change is safe, although that is an important part of our consideration - we also have to consider the cumulative impact of all of the changes we make, and we have to be sensible about the order in which we make changes so we don’t create a situation in which we are doing too much too quickly and therefore giving the virus a chance to overwhelm us again. So there will be, I’m sure parts of our economy and people, who will be disappointed tomorrow if changes they want to hear are not happening as quickly as they would like and I recognise that and I am genuinely, as I always have been, sorry about that. I don’t relish any of the implications and consequences of what we are dealing with right now.
Where we are unable to move to a further opening up tomorrow, we will indicate as far as we can. indicative dates for the future even though they will be conditional on continued suppression of the virus.

As ever, the decisive factor in ensuring how quickly we can make further changes in the weeks ahead, will be how successful we continue to be at driving this virus to low levels and keeping it at the low levels we see right now.

And as ever, that depends on all of us. Each and every one of us have to ensure that we do everything we can to avoid creating opportunities for the virus to spread.

What I’m about to say, firstly you’ve heard me say it before and secondly it is not intended as a criticism. We are all human beings and even the politicians among us, and human behaviour is very instinctive and I know, and I totally know from my own observations and I know how hard it is in my own life, that some of the things that we have been getting used to doing for the past four months, physically distancing in particular, we are all perhaps beginning to just drop our guard a little bit on these things. And this is a moment and I say this directly and I will just say it from the bottom of my heart, it is a moment for all of us just to pause and think about whether that is the case and if we are dropping our guard and letting those standards slip, give ourselves a bit of a shake and make sure we do all the things that we have been advised to do rigorously in the period ahead and that is of course encapsulated in the FACTS advice that I always end with and that I will end with today.

• Please wear face coverings, it’s mandatory as you know in shops and on public transport and I think you will see high levels of compliance with that but in any enclosed space where you might find it more difficult to physical distance, wear a face covering. It gives an added bit of protection against transmission.
• Continue to avoid crowded places. Even if they are outdoors, crowded places wherever they are, increase the risks of this virus spreading, so avoid crowded places.
• Remember to clean your hands and clean any hard surfaces that you’re touching. This one will be cleaned after this briefing today because the virus stays around on hard surfaces and we know it can spread through lack of hand hygiene. So clean hands, clean hard surfaces. .
• Keep a two metre distance. And this is the one more than any of the others that we all need to check ourselves on. Keep a 2 metre distance unless you’re in a premises where there is permission to go to 1 metre with appropriate mitigations the general rule remains 2 metres .
• and lastly Self isolate, and book a test, if you have symptoms.

Test and Protect right now is performing I think well and those who are working through Test and Protect are doing a sterling job when outbreaks and clusters appear. But they need the cooperation of each and every one of us, so please make sure if you are experiencing a cough, a fever, or if you are aware of a change in a loss in your sense of taste or smell, then you self-isolate immediately and you take a test immediately because that helps Test and Protect do its job.

If we all follow all of these things, we don’t take away the risks of this virus unfortunately it’s not that simple but we do significantly reduce those risks and we collectively try to protect the progress that we’ve made and hopefully keep that progress and keep this virus under control, so thanks all of you for listening.

*Paragraph removed due to out of date figures

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