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

Statement given by the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at a media briefing at St Andrew's House, Edinburgh on Thursday 3 September.

Hello, and thanks for joining us again today.

Let me start as usual with the COVID update.

An additional 101 positive cases were confirmed yesterday.

That represents 1.1% of people who were newly tested yesterday and the total number of cases now to 20,889.

The full health board breakdown will be available as usual later on this afternoon, but my provisional information is that 53 are in the Greater Glasgow & Clyde Health Board area.

I can also confirm that 259 patients are currently in hospital with confirmed Covid, which is 1 more than yesterday.

You might have some media reports today suggesting that in comparison to other parts of the UK, hospital figures in Scotland currently overstate the numbers being treated for Covid.

That is something we have been investigating for a few weeks. NHS boards have conducted an audit of the figures.

This audit is trying to identify which patients have tested positive within the last 14 or 28 days; how many of them are still being treated for Covid related illnesses; and how many, although they might have tested positive for COVID sometime ago, are now actually being treated for other conditions.

I hope to be in a position to give an update on that next week, once we have got the full outcome of that, and therefore at that point I will be able to set out any changes we might be making to how we report hospital cases.

In addition to the hospital cases, I can report 4 people are in intensive care today, which is 1 fewer than yesterday.

Unfortunately, I also have to report an additional death of a patient who had tested positive. However this death actually occurred in mid-August, but Public Health Scotland have only now got all of the information required to report it.

The number of deaths under the daily measurement is therefore now 2,496.

That figure – which of course also includes the death that was reported yesterday - reminds us of the impact that this virus has had, and indeed is still having on many people. I want once again to send my condolences to everyone who has lost someone

I am joined today by the Health Secretary, who will talk in a moment about care homes, and by the National Clinical Director, who will take questions with us.

Before then though, I’ve got two issues I want to briefly update on.

The first is that the Scottish Government will today publish our weekly report on the R number – you will recall the R number is the average number of people who we estimate would be infected by one other infectious person.

That report will confirm what recent figures have probably already suggested to many of you. We think that the R number in Scotland increased last week, and that it is probably now above 1 - perhaps as high as 1.4

I have said recently that the R number is of slightly less concern when overall prevalence of the virus is low – and overall prevalence of the virus is still low in Scotland right now – but nevertheless this is a further reminder that the virus is spreading again here, just as it is elsewhere in the UK, across Europe and indeed in the wider world. So it is a reminder of the need for us to take this seriously and do all of the right things.

Greater Glasgow and Clyde

That really relates to the other issue I want to talk about today. And as I talk about this, I will obviously make particular reference to the parts of the Greater Glasgow and Clyde Health Board area, Glasgow City, West Dunbartonshire and East Renfrewshire that have restrictions in place right now. But I want to reflect a little bit on how as we come out of lockdown and cases inevitably rise as we always predicted they would, how we nevertheless try to keep transmission under control - and what part Test & Protect plays in that. The really important role Test & Protect has to perform for us but also what the limitations of that are and the responsibility that still rests on the shoulders of each and every one of us.

You will recall we try to use the summer period, and did so effectively, to reduce Covid in Scotland to as low a level as possible.

That was because we knew that - as we started to move out of lockdown - there would be more opportunities for the virus to spread. And as happened in other countries we may see cases begin to rise.

By getting it to low levels, and trying to keep overall transmission as low as possible - what I’ve often referred to as our elimination strategy – we then give our Test and Protect teams the best possible chance of identifying local cases and clusters when they do occur and through contact tracing and advising people to isolate where necessary,  breaking the chains of transmission.

And so far our Test & Protect teams across the country are doing an excellent job and I want the take the opportunity today to thank them for that.

The other crucial, thing Test & Protect does, working of course with local Incident Management Teams and local health protection teams, is give us much more intelligence than we had at an early stage in this pandemic about the causes and sources of outbreaks and is able to make assessments of whether these outbreaks are contained or risking wider spread.

That intelligence then informs the decisions we have to take about when we need to take further action, impose restrictions, and what form that further action should take.

So if you think back a couple of weeks to the outbreak that was identified in the Two Sisters food processing plant in Coupar Angus. That outbreak was identified quickly as being sourced in the food processing plant; and it was identified before it had been able to spread more widely in the community; and that meant that measures could be targeted very, very specifically at workers of that factory and their households to try to make sure that it didn’t spread any further beyond that.

And that seems to have been successful, although of course that involved difficult periods of isolation for the workers and their households, but it meant that we were able to stem any spread into the community.

A bit earlier than that in Aberdeen, through Test & Protect and the work of the local teams it was identified that the outbreak there had started in pubs, but also that there was a risk of wider community transmission.

So we took the decision to close hospitality for a period, and also impose travel and household restrictions. Those decision were driven by our understanding of what was happening there in Aberdeen.

And while all of that was really tough for people in Aberdeen and it took a while to bring the situation under control, it nevertheless has been effective and that outbreak is now effectively over.

In the last couple of weeks, the rise in new cases has been particularly pronounced in Greater Glasgow and Clyde and as you know earlier this week we imposed restrictions on household gatherings in Glasgow City, East Renfrewshire and West Dunbartonshire.

What Test & Protect has been able to tell us so far in this situation is that the cases are not linked in the main to any a big identified outbreak - they are instead associated with multiple, smaller, unconnected household based clusters - and that then raises a concern about the risks of wider community transmission.

And it was that analysis and intelligence that led us to the conclusion earlier this week that we had to take some action. Doing nothing was not an option. The question then became what was the most targeted action we could take.

And again the information coming through Test & Protect guided us in the decisions we took. Because the information was also telling us that at this stage transmission appears to be largely household based as opposed to, as in Aberdeen, hospitality and pub based.

That is what led to the decision to impose household restrictions but not close pubs, which I understand can be really counterintuitive and difficult for people to understand.

In short, what I am trying to set out here, is the analysis we now get through Test and Protect enables us to be much more targeted and proportionate rather than, what we were faced with earlier in the year, of simply imposing a blanket lockdown everywhere that really meant everybody had to stay at home.  Now we try to be much more targeted, much more proportionate, but because these decisions are being guided by the analysis that has been done, hopefully these measures are effective.  

So in the Greater Glasgow and Clyde areas, we hope this targeted approach will work. But of course we can’t know that for sure, so we will review it again after a week to assess whether any further measures are necessary.

Now before I finish here I want to address one further question because some people watching and others might ask, why isn’t Test & Protect stopping these outbreaks happening altogether.

We all wish there was some kind of magic bullet that would do that because none of us want to live under these restrictions.


But that leads me to a really fundamental point that I think it’s important for all of us to understand because it leads back to the responsibilities we all have.

Test & Protect is, as you’ve probably gathered from what I’ve said today and what I’ve been saying up until now, it is a vital part of our approach, now and for the foreseeable future but Test and Protect is not the equivalent of a vaccine.

It doesn’t magically make Covid go away. 

What it does is step in, in these occasions when the virus gets past us, all of us who, when we follow all of the advice, are the first line of defence against it.

Test and Protect then works to contain spread and it gives us information as I’ve said, that allows us to be targeted when we have to impose restrictions.

It is, if you like, our second line of defence.

But we - all of us – we are the first line of defence. And we must do everything we can to stop it spreading in the first place from person to person and household to household.

To put it bluntly, if we don’t do our job, Test & Protect steps in, but it is by definition firefighting. And the more we let the virus through, the more we allow it to spread, the harder Test and Protect’s job is to do.

What I want to say, the point I want to conclude on is the situation in these parts of Greater Glasgow and Clyde I really think should be a wake-up call for all of us.

Numbers of new cases are high in those areas, and that’s why we have had to impose some restrictions but new cases have been increasing in many parts of Scotland in the last fortnight.

So all of us – wherever we live – have to be more careful than ever about sticking to all the rules and guidance and trying to minimise the chances we are giving the virus to spread.

We are never going to completely take away the risk of getting the virus - this is a highly infectious virus and often it will spread and that will be despite our best efforts to stop it. But all of us do have the opportunity and the power to reduce the risks that we face and protect ourselves and keep our families and communities safe.

The ways in which we do that are the simple, difficult to follow in practice I know, but simple and very effective if we all abide by them, measures that are encapsulated in the FACTS advice.

So let me just end, with a reminder as I always do, but if I can manage this, put even more force behind this reminder today because it is so important that all of us stick to this. Remember to:

  • Wear face coverings in enclosed spaces.
  • Avoid crowded places, indoors or outdoors.
  • Wash your hands regularly, clean hard surfaces after you touch them.
  • keep to Two metre distance from people in other households.
  • self-isolate, and book a test, if you have symptoms of the virus.

If all us do all of these things then we are minimizing the chances of the virus hopping from one person to another and one household to another. We’re reducing the number of cases and the number of clusters and the number of outbreaks that will spring up and in doing that we are making it more possible for Test and Protect to effectively contain the outbreaks that from time to time we know will inevitably happen.

I hope that has given you a bit of an insight into the decisions that we take, how those decisions are informed and why sometimes we end up in positions that might on the face of it seem to be inconsistent. But they are driven by the evidence and the judgement that is being applied because we know have the resource of Test and Protect. Fundamentally we all have to play our part in this if we are going to succeed, particularly as we go into the winter months in keeping this virus under control.

Thank you very much for listening.


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