Good afternoon, and thank you for joining us.
I’ll start with the usual update on the Covid-19 statistics.
An additional 18 positive cases were confirmed yesterday. That represents 0.7% of the people who were newly tested yesterday, and it takes the total number of cases in Scotland to 18,694.
A health board breakdown will be available as usual later on but my provisional information is that 11 of the 18 new cases are in the Grampian Health Board area - though I cannot yet say if some or all are linked to the outbreak in Aberdeen. 6 are in Greater Glasgow & Clyde and 1 is in Lothian.
I can also report that a total of 265 patients are currently in hospital who have been confirmed as having the virus. That is the same as yesterday.
And a total of 3 people last night were in intensive care with confirmed Covid-19. That is also the same as yesterday.
Finally, I am very glad and relieved to say that yet again during the last 24 hours, no deaths were registered of a patient 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.
Although we are now reporting fewer deaths on a daily basis, that total reminds us of the impact this virus has had on families across the country. I want to again extend my condolences to everyone who has suffered loss.
And as always, I want to thank our health and care workers for the extraordinary work that you continue to do.
There are three main points I want to cover today.
We have had – over the weekend as you may have seen in the media – a number of small outbreaks, of relatively low numbers across the country. The most significant of these is the cluster that is currently being dealt with in Aberdeen.
I can confirm that, as of now, 13 positive cases have been identified as associated with this cluster - though that number may yet rise.
Each of the cases so far is linked to the Hawthorns Bar in Aberdeen. And I want to thank that business for acting swiftly and for co-operating fully with the guidance and procedures to contain the cluster.
An incident management team – led by NHS Grampian – met over the weekend. It is working with the Scottish Government, Health Protection Scotland and local environmental health teams to trace contacts, inspect premises, and do everything possible to minimise onward transmission. I am very grateful for those efforts. And we will, of course, provide more details as and when they become available.
We’ve seen a few of these clusters now - and unfortunately, it’s very likely that we’ll see more in the weeks ahead.
This particular cluster in Aberdeen is, if I’m honest, exactly what I feared when we re-opened hospitality. And it’s what I was talking about last week, when I urged people to think carefully about how often you need to go to a pub or a restaurant right now, and the care you take while there.
Of course, it is not just this incident in Aberdeen. Across the country, and across social media, we’re seeing evidence of people – and it’s largely younger people – gathering together, with little or no physical distancing in place.
I’ve seen pictures on social media from this weekend that - not to put too fine a point on it - made me want to cry looking at them.
I know what a hard slog it is every single day right now to keep this virus under control.
That’s a hard slog by people here in the Scottish Government but even more so people working in test and protect and our local public health teams across the country. It is a hard slog by the many businesses doing the right things, and of course members of the public who continue to make very hard sacrifices right now.
But every time one person throws caution to the wind and flouts the rules, they put all of us at risk. And the reality is they put all of us at risk and they make the job of everybody working to try to control this virus that much harder.
So I know this year has been really difficult. The most difficult most of us can remember. I know people have missed socialising; and I know that as we exit lockdown – in a summer where we can’t really travel – things can get frustrating.
But I urge all of you to please follow the rules - not just for yourself, although it is for your health and wellbeing, but it’s also about your friends, members of your family and also about the good of the country and the economy overall. So we don’t have to put restrictions on hospitality back in place.
But be in no doubt, if we have to we will - because we will have no choice.
The Test and Protect system is there to ensure that when these kinds of incidents do occur, they can be contained. And all the evidence I have seen so far suggests that the system is working well. But it is like fighting forest fires. It takes enormous efforts and enormous resource and it’s always a race against time.
So we all need to help. Test and Protect is at its most effective, when incidents like the one we are seeing in Aberdeen right now are kept to a minimum. And so all of us need to continue to reduce the risk of transmission – by denying the virus opportunities to spread.
So please I appeal to everybody be careful. Remember to physically distance, I know it’s really hard and I know it’s the easiest thing in the world to forget, but remember to keep that distance. Wash hands and surfaces, wear face coverings – and indeed, comply with all of the different elements of our FACTS campaign.
Doing those things is how we will keep rates of the virus low. And it’s also how we best support Test and Protect and local public health teams and give them the best chance of containing outbreaks – as and when they happen.
Of course, when we do have outbreaks of this kind, it’s also very important that we learn from them. And that’s relevant to the second point I want to touch on.
The Scottish Government has today published new guidance for call and contact centres. You’ll remember that – a couple of weeks ago – there was an outbreak linked to a call centre in Lanarkshire.
That centre was involved in essential activity. Throughout the pandemic, call and contact centres undertaking essential work, have been able to remain open.
The staff at those centres have – among other things – enabled the work of our emergency services; they’ve helped to support businesses; they’ve kept the lights on and the internet working; and they’ve provided financial and emotional advice to those who need it most. So I want to take this opportunity to thank all those involved in that incredibly important work.
I also want to take the opportunity to thank all of those who are still waiting for their workplace to reopen. Non-essential call and contact centre premises are due to remain closed until at least 14 September. And we’re continuing to advise people to work from home, wherever possible. I know that makes things really tough, and I really appreciate your patience – and the sacrifices you are making.
The guidance we’re publishing today will help to ensure that – now and in the future – contact and call centres can operate safely. It’s been produced in consultation with employers and trade unions. And it takes account of the latest scientific evidence – as well as experiences, like the outbreak in Lanarkshire.
The guidance provides important advice on things like physical distancing, cleaning and hand hygiene. And it should further reduce the risk of transmission of the virus, in the workplace.
The final issue I want to talk about today relates to the reopening of schools, next week.
We know that the move from nursery to primary school can be a big step for children. For parents and carers it can also involve additional costs – for things like school uniforms, shoes, school bags, and books.
Last year, the Scottish Government established the School Age Payment, to help with those kinds of costs. It’s part of the Best Start Grant. And it provides eligible parents or carers with a one off payment of £250.
It’s aimed at people who currently receive certain benefits or tax credits. And it will be available to parents or carers of a child born between 1 March 2015 and 29 February 2016.
It’s important to note that you do not need to take up a school place to get the money – those who are home schooling or have deferred their child’s start date can still apply.
So if you think you might be eligible, please go to mygov.scot/benefits, for more information. Alternatively, you can call 0800 182 2222 and speak to an adviser. We will make sure those details are posted on the Scottish Government Twitter feed later today.
It’s also worth noting that if you’re eligible for the Best Start Grant, you might also be entitled to free school meals or a School Clothing Grant. And you can apply for these, by contacting your local authority.
The basic point is that there is help there for you, if you need it. And the School Age Payment is one example of that.
Last year, it benefitted more than 18,000 families. And I hope that, this year – at a really tough time for many people – it provides even more households, with that little bit of extra support.
I will hand on to the Cabinet Secretary in a moment and then to the Chief Nursing Officer, but I want to end – as I usually do – by reminding you once again of Facts. These are the five key things all of us must remember in everything we do.
- Face coverings should be worn in enclosed spaces such as shops and public transport.
- Avoid crowded places.
- Clean your hands and hard surfaces regularly.
- Two metre distancing remains the rule.
- and Self isolate, and book a test, if you have symptoms.
Following this advice is actually more important now than ever. Every step out of lockdown we take, the more opportunities there are for the virus to spread. So we have to be extra careful and extra vigilant.
Every day, we see the evidence of what can happen, if this virus gets out of control.
Around the world, across Europe, and in parts of England, we’re seeing significant flare-ups. And in many places, restrictions are having to re-imposed.
None of us want to see that here in Scotland, I certainly don’t. Incidents like the one in Aberdeen remind us of how fragile things are right now and it underlines why all of us have to stick to these rules. And it underlines why all of us need to continue to stick by the rules.
By doing that, we can all continue to play our part, in suppressing this virus. And we can ensure that – rather than having to go into reverse – we can continue to move in the right direction, out of lockdown.
So my thanks to everybody for their cooperation and compliance.
And please, as I said on Friday, just pause and think about how you are behaving in your own lives and if you have let those standards slip then please use this opportunity to tighten up because lives really do depend on it and we have all got a part to play.
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