Coronavirus (COVID-19) update: First Minister's speech 3 July 2020

Statement given by the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at the media briefing in St Andrew's House, Edinburgh on Friday 3 July.

Good afternoon, and welcome to today’s briefing.

I want to start by providing my usual update on the most recent Covid-19 statistics for Scotland.

An additional 12 positive cases were confirmed yesterday - that takes the total now in Scotland to 18,276. 

A total of 670 patients are currently in hospital with the virus - either confirmed or suspected. That is 115 fewer than yesterday, and it includes a reduction of 10 in the number of confirmed cases.

A total of 12 people last night were in intensive care with either confirmed or suspected Covid 19. That is 3 more than yesterday.

Since 5 March, a total of 4,088 patients who had tested positive and admitted to hospital for Covid-19 have been able to leave hospital.

And in the last 24 hours, 1 death has been registered of a patient confirmed through a test as having Covid-19. That takes the total number of deaths in Scotland, under that measurement, to 2488.

We must, of course, always remember that each and every death in Scotland, and indeed anywhere, is a source of grief and heartbreak. I once again want to send my condolences and wishers to everyone who has lost a loved one to this illness.

I also want to say today, not just to say my usual thank you, to health and care staff but an extra special thank you to everybody working across our NHS and Social Care service. This Sunday sees the 72nd anniversary of the creation of NHS Scotland in 1948. In the same year, the National Assistance Act – which laid the foundations for social care in this country - was also passed.

We are grateful to those working in health and care services every single year, but there is no doubt at all that our health and care workers have been challenged over the past period like seldom before in that 72 year history - and they have responded absolutely magnificently. So my thanks, once again, goes to each and every one of them. It is not possible to find the words to sum up the gratitude that I feel and I know that gratitude is shared  by everyone across our country. We are all grateful for everything you have done and continue to do.

 Now, I've just got a couple of things I want to speak to you about during this update. The first thing I want to touch on is something you will be watching in the news today and that is the issue of air bridges. As you know, the UK government has announced a list of countries that it intends to remove from quarantine restrictions in relation to travel to England from the 10th of July. Now I explained yesterday some of the reasons why it has been really quite challenging for Scotland to come to a position on the UK proposals with any speed. We've often had limited or no notice of the UK's proposals, and that matters because some of the judgments involved here are difficult and complex.

And just to illustrate the point about the shifting sands of the UK government's position, the list of countries that they were yesterday demanding that the Scottish Government signed up to and suggesting that we were a barrier to getting agreement on, is not the same as the list that they have shared with us today. So, we need as the Scottish Government to analyse these proposals properly, and rationally, and we need to do that, obviously from a public health perspective, but we also need to do that from a legal perspective. All of these decisions are of course potentially open to legal challenge.

And when so much is at stake as it is right now, we can't allow ourselves to be dragged along in the wake of other governments, to be quite frank about it, shambolic decision making process. So we will take time to properly and rationally consider this before, hopefully very soon, setting out our own decision.

I want to just briefly share with you why it's important to take care because of the complexity of the issues that we're dealing with. The first thing I want to make clear, just in case there's any doubt, I hope there's not, but let me be absolutely unequivocal about this. We want to welcome visitors again from around the world and of course we also want to allow our own citizens to travel. That's important for our tourism sector, it's important for our aviation sector and it's important for our economy, generally.

Scotland has a long standing reputation, and one that I hope will go well into the future, of being an open and welcoming country. And we also want, if possible, for obvious practical reasons, to have alignment on these matters with the rest of the UK, But, and I hope this is a point that everybody can understand, we must make sure we open our country up again safely and we absolutely must make sure that the decisions we take don't put at risk the progress that we have made in tackling COVID because that progress is significant, as you know, but it has also been very, very hard earned and it's important that we protect it in the weeks ahead.

The fact is that measures such as quarantine they become arguably more important, not less, as levels of the virus here in Scotland, reduce. And that's because when there are low levels of the virus here, one of the key risks we have to manage, and it's one of the key risks that people that Jason Leitch will advise me that we have to be very careful in our management of, is the possibility of new cases of the virus coming into Scotland from outside. And that risk is of course greater when people might be coming to Scotland from countries where the virus is still more prevalent than it now is here at home. And while we do want an alignment with the UK, because as I said a moment ago the practical reasons for that are obvious, an added factor we have to consider is that we are not dealing with a uniform picture across the UK when it comes to the level of COVID infection.

For example, we assess that the prevalence of the virus in Scotland, right now, is five times lower than it is in England. Northern Ireland actually faces a similar issue. So that means that there may well be cases where the UK Government is admitting visitors to England without quarantine from countries that don't present a significant risk of raising infection levels there, but would create that risk in Scotland.

Now, none of this is easy and it is really important that we make sure that we consider all of these issues carefully and that we're not taking any of these issues in a careless way because they are complex, and the consequences of the decisions we take could be significant. There’s a not, in my view, entirely unreasonable school of thought that travel restrictions should have been imposed for the UK earlier in this pandemic. Now others will take a different view on that and there is a debate about the rights and wrongs of it, but the fact that we do debate that I think underlines the importance of not taking ill-thought through decisions now.

So we will consider this issue carefully, I think I can say now that it is very likely that we will be able to agree the list of countries that the UK has categorized as low risk, although we will need to do a proper assessment of that. But we need to take some particular care in our assessment of the list of countries that are being categorized as medium risk because that is where there may be some countries that have a higher prevalence of the virus than Scotland does right now.

Now, we will hopefully conclude that process of consideration over the next couple of days and announce our decisions on that quickly, but I wanted to take just a minute or two to set out the reasons why we are not immediately agreeing the list of countries the UK Government has proposed and the reasons why it's so important that we take these decisions, carefully.

And in the meantime, if you're desperate to book a summer holiday, and if you are, that would be entirely understandable, why not think about booking it in Scotland this year and giving some support to our own tourism sector at a time when they have probably never needed that support more.

Now the second issue I want to briefly cover relates to the economy, Fiona Hyslop will speak in a moment about support for business, including tourism and also for performing arts venues. Today, though, also sees the publication of a report from a subgroup of our enterprise skills board about the impact of COVID on jobs and skills. The group has made some significant recommendations on keeping unemployment to a minimum as the economic impact of this crisis continues. These recommendations include supporting the retention of as many workers as possible helping especially vulnerable groups, providing more effective assistance for people who are facing redundancy and maximizing the flexibility of colleges and universities. We will consider these carefully alongside last week's report from the advisory group on economic recovery.

I wanted to do just to confirm one announcement in relation to one of the recommendations. The proposal from the advisory group to implement a job guarantee for young people fits well with many of the key priorities identified in today's report so I can confirm today that Sandy Begbie, who is the chief transformation Officer of Tesco Bank, has agreed to lead the work on developing an implementation plan for the job guarantee. Sandy  has valuable experience in this area. He was very closely involved in the Edinburgh guarantee for young people, and in developing the young workforce programme. Together, today's report and the advisory group on economic recovery, have highlighted important ways to support skills and employment despite the heavy impact that COVID is having, and the Scottish Government is determined to do that and in so doing we will work with business, the public sector, trade unions and many others as we continue to turn plans and proposals into firm actions.

The final issue I just want to highlight is it today sees the lifting of the five mile limit travel guidance, except for some parts of Dumfries and Galloway, and Professor Leitch will give an update on the Dumfries and Galloway outbreak in a moment.

Outside of Dumfries and Galloway, the postcodes we spoke about yesterday, which are listed on the Scottish Government's website, we are no longer, outside of those areas, recommending that you must stick to a five mile travel limit for recreational purposes.

I'm sure many of you will be thinking of taking advantage of that travel a bit further over the weekend and that is great. I hope you enjoy seeing some more of Scotland again and supporting local businesses, as you go. But please be careful, new guidance has been published today on the Transport Scotland website and I would recommend that you take time to read it.

As you travel, avoid crowded places and if you go somewhere and it's already busy, go somewhere else. And make sure you don't leave litter behind. Please be sensitive to people living in our rural and Island communities, because if you don't take appropriate care, you run the risk of taking the virus to these places, and nobody wants to see that happen.

As we do get aspects of normality back into our lives although life still shouldn't feel completely normal right now. But as we get aspects of normality back, the question we should all be asking ourselves, is how do we make normal safe? And in many ways that message is the note I want to end on. As we all start going out and about and doing more, it's important that we all comply with, rigorously, to the letter, the health advice that we have been circulating. So I want to end with a reminder for you of the FACTS campaign, the five things all of us should do to try to make normal, as we slowly get it back, safe for ourselves and everybody else.

So face coverings in enclosed spaces like shops and public transport. Avoid crowded places, clean your hands and hard surfaces carefully and regularly. Two metre distancing remains the rule and self-isolate and book a test if you have symptoms. If we all comply with these five measures, then we will keep ourselves safe, we will protect others and ultimately, we will save lives so my thanks to every one of you for cooperating with that and abiding by the advice.

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