Good afternoon everyone and thank you for joining us.
Before I move on to today’s update on Covid, I want to say just a few words about Friday’s knife attack in the city of Glasgow.
During the briefing on Friday, I commented on what an exceptional job our police service was doing in enforcing proportionately and sensitively the lockdown restrictions.
But Friday afternoon reminded us of another side of the police’s duties – it reminded us that in order to protect all of us, the public, our police officers so often run towards danger, despite the risk to themselves.
Now we are considering what further lessons need to be learned from what happened on Friday – Aileen Campbell, the Communities Secretary, is discussing the safety and wellbeing of asylum seekers in a phone call with the UK Government later today.
But for the moment, I simply want to take this opportunity to thank all of the police officers involved in dealing with Friday’s attack – they showed outstanding courage, dedication and professionalism. And through that undoubtedly avoided a very serious situation indeed becoming even worse.
I also want to praise our medical services, including of course the Scottish Ambulance Service, for providing such effective care so quickly to those affected by the attack.
And my thoughts are very much with Constable David Whyte, and with everyone harmed in Friday’s incident. I hope all six people injured make a full and speedy recovery – my best wishes go to them and to their loved ones.
Now, let me start the Covid part of the briefing by providing my usual update on the most recent statistics.
I can report today, that an additional 5 positive cases were confirmed yesterday - which takes the total now in Scotland to 18,241 confirmed cases.
A total of 740 patients are currently in hospital with the virus - either confirmed or suspected. That is 38 fewer than yesterday overall, and there has been no change since yesterday in the number of confirmed cases in hospital.
A total of 10 people last night were in intensive care with confirmed or suspected Covid and that is 3 fewer than yesterday.
Since 5 March, a total of 4,051 patients who had tested positive for the virus and required hospital treatment have now been able to leave hospital.
And in the past 24 hours, I’m pleased to report that no deaths were registered of a patient confirmed through a test as having Covid-19 – the total number of deaths in Scotland, under that measurement, therefore remains at 2,482.
This is the fourth day in a row when no deaths of patients confirmed through a test have been recorded in Scotland.
Now of course two of these days have been weekends, and we know that registration can be artificially low at weekends and we may see more deaths registered later this week.
But there is no doubt that these recent figures demonstrate beyond any doubt how much progress Scotland has made in tackling Covid. That is down to the efforts and sacrifices of everyone across the country and I want again to say a heartfelt thank you to all of you for that. Our challenge now, and it is a big challenge, and it will again depend on the efforts of all of us – is to continue that progress, while at the same time reopening more of our economy, restarting more of our public services, and seeing more of our family and friends.
And of course – the tally of total deaths that I have reported is a constant reminder, and should continue to be a constant reminder, of the human toll of this virus and why our efforts to contain, control and hopefully eliminate it are so important. Everyone who has died due to this illness was a unique and irreplaceable individual, whose loss right now is a source of grief to many. I want again today to send my deepest condolences to everyone who has lost a loved one as a result of COVID-19.
And again let me express my thanks to our health and our care workers and indeed to all our key workers – the progress we have made to date is in no small part due to your dedication. The entire country is grateful to you for everything you have done, and indeed, everything you continue to do.
I have two key points I want to briefly update on today. The first relates to public finances and the economy – and I am joined today by Kate Forbes, the Finance Secretary.
Today – and I will return to this briefly at the end of my remarks – we are seeing the reopening of significant parts of our economy. And later this afternoon, I will be discussing how we continue that restart safely and sustainably, at one of the Scottish Government’s regular meetings with the Scottish Trades Union Congress.
In addition, the Scottish Government has published a paper today, which puts forward some hopefully constructive proposals for how the UK as a whole can and needs to stimulate economic growth in a way that is both fair and sustainable.
The paper proposes an £80 billion stimulus programme – roughly comparable in ambition to the one Germany has recently adopted – and it has a particular focus on investment in low carbon and digital infrastructure. Our proposals would also provide an employment guarantee for young people.
We are also suggesting a temporary cut in VAT to boost consumption – with especially low rates for our hospitality and tourism sectors because they have been particularly hard hit and are likely to be hit for even longer than some other parts of our economy.
And alongside those UK-wide proposals, we propose that Scotland should gain greater financial powers – for example over borrowing – so that we can shape our own response to the economic implications of the pandemic.
The economic crisis caused by COVID-19 is undoubtedly the most serious of our lifetimes. The Scottish Government’s proposals are therefore ambitious, but also practical, and sustainable – and we believe they would benefit not just Scotland but the whole of the UK. Central to them is the strong belief that the austerity mistake of the post financial crash period must not be repeated and that debt must be managed over a longer time period. We hope that these proposals will be considered seriously – and we will of course happily discuss the details of them with the UK Government.
The second issue I want to talk about is the issue of air bridges.
The UK Government made its announcement on what are called air bridges – which allow travel to and from certain countries without quarantine restrictions – unfortunately without any prior consultation at all with the Scottish Government.
As a result, we are still considering our response and our own proposals. The Justice Secretary, Humza Yousaf, was part of a four-way phone discussion with Michael Gove and the other devolved administrations earlier today.
This is an issue on which we have tried very hard to work closely with the UK Government and other devolved administrations. And we can and do of course see the benefits of adopting a consistent approach across all parts of the UK.
However, we also know that quarantine measures – albeit perhaps on a more targeted basis in future – may become more important in Scotland, rather than less, as our infection rates fall, since then the relative impact of new cases from outside Scotland potentially become greater.
And of course the prospect of cases coming in from elsewhere poses a risk, not just to health but also to our economy.
We therefore want to take a bit of time to consider the public health impact of the UK Government's proposals as well as the data and evidence underpinning them, which hopefully we will see before too long, and we will make a further announcement once we have had the opportunity to do so.
The final point I want to make relates once again to our key public health measures.
As I said earlier on, today sees a significant resumption of activity in key public services and in our economy. Optometry services for example are now resuming and, from today, women who had a cervical cancer screening scheduled before that service was paused can contact their GP to arrange a new appointment.
In terms of the economy many factories, warehouses and laboratories can now reopen, the construction sector can already move to the next phase of its reopening plan, house moves can also resume.
And of course, most non-essential retail premises are able to reopen from today with appropriate physical distancing measures in place.
We're also recommending that everyone should wear a face covering in a shop, unless for example you have a medical condition which makes that difficult.
But I would strongly urge everyone else to wear a face covering. It is a way in which you can protect other people, you're less likely to transmit the virus to them if you are waiting one, and everyone else who is wearing a face covering is, in turn, helping to protect you.
I know that wearing face coverings takes some getting used to but please get into the habit of it now because it does add to the protections we want to confer on each other, and it is one measure that helps us to reduce the risk of the transmission of COVID-19.
This gradual reopening of our economy and our public services is of course very welcome and it has been very hard-earned by everybody across the country.
And of course the figures I've just reported demonstrate once again just how much progress we have made in recent weeks, but please don't think because of this that life should be completely back to normal, or that the risk of COVID has somehow disappeared. It has not disappeared, the virus has not gone away.
There are still, as I reported today, hundreds of people in Scotland in hospital as a result of the virus, there are still new people becoming infected every day.
And, although those numbers are low, this is a virus that we know is still highly infectious and very dangerous, and it will start to spread rapidly again if we give it the opportunity to do so.
So please, even as we all go out and about more and do more things, do not give it that opportunity to spread. Our public health campaign, FACTS, summarises the key points that all of us need to remember and to abide by.
Firstly, face coverings should be worn in enclosed spaces such as shops, they are already mandatory on public transport.
Second, avoid crowded places – crowded places are a danger, even if they are outdoors.
Third, clean your hands and hard surfaces that you touch regularly.
Fourth, two-metre distancing remains the advice.
And lastly, self-isolate and immediately book a test if you have any of the symptoms of COVID-19.
If all of us remember these five basic measures, then all of us can help to stay safe ourselves, help to protect others and, ultimately help to save lives.
So please continue to do all of that and to stick with these rules. If you do we can and we will sustain the progress we've all made.
My thanks again to everyone who is doing that.
I hope it is becoming clearer with every day that passes what a difference it is all making and why it is important to continue with that discipline.
Thank you very much indeed for listening. I'm going to hand now to the Finance Secretary to say a few words before we move on to questions.
This speech was amended to reflect current phase of construction activity
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