Coronavirus (COVID-19) update: First Minister's speech 31 August 2020

Statement given by the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at a media briefing at St Andrew's House, Edinburgh on Monday 31 August.

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Good afternoon, thanks for joining us.

I will start with the usual update on the COVID statistics.

An additional 160 positive cases were confirmed yesterday.

That is an increase of 37 since yesterday - and therefore undoubtedly a concern - but it still represents less than 1%, 0.9% to be precise, of the people who were newly tested yesterday and takes the total number of cases now to 20,478.

A full health board breakdown will be available as usual later, but the provisional information I have is that just 14 of the 160 new cases are in Tayside, where we have been dealing with the cluster involving the Two Sisters food processing plant.

And just four are in Grampian, which I think is a further indication that the Aberdeen pub cluster has been contained, and my thanks to everyone there in our Test and Protect teams and the local Incident Management Team for all the hard work that they have done.

However, 69 of the new cases are in Greater Glasgow & Clyde, 27 in Lanarkshire, 18 in Lothian, 9 in Forth Valley and 8 in Ayrshire & Arran.

The remaining 11 are spread across four different health boards.

I’m going to say a bit more about these cases later, but let me give an assurance that the circumstances of them and any connections and patterns between them are being very carefully examined. As you would expect, we are paying particularly close attention to Glasgow and Lanarkshire, and considering whether any specific action there may be required.

I can also confirm today though that 258 patients are in hospital with Covid, which is seven more than yesterday.

And five people are in intensive care.

While this is the same number as yesterday it is worth noting that it is four more than it was a week ago. That should be a reminder of how serious this virus can be.

However, I am pleased to say that again in the past 24 hours, no deaths were registered of patients who had tested positive over the previous 28 days.

The number of deaths under that measurement remains 2,494.

That total of course reminds us of the overall impact of Covid, and I want to send once again my condolences to everyone who is grieving a loved one.

I am joined today by the Education Secretary, who will talk in a moment about face coverings in schools. The Chief Nursing Officer will also help us with questions.

Before then though there are a few issues I want to cover.

First of all, I want to give a bit more detail on some of the main clusters that we are currently dealing with and the increase in cases that I have just reported.

As I have already commented on, we saw quite high numbers of new cases not just today but over the weekend. 

That is partly as a result of greater numbers of people being tested - the overall proportion of positive tests was still below 1% over the weekend, which I think is an important bit of context here for everybody to bear in mind.

However, the numbers of cases we are seeing right now is a reminder to all of us that the virus is still a very real risk - it is a development that concerns me and it is one we are taking very seriously.

We mustn’t lose sight of how important it is - if we are to keep schools open, build economic recovery and retain a bit more normality in our lives - that we do continue to suppress the virus, and push as close to elimination of it as we possibly can.

But of course the flip side of that is that all of that gets harder the more we open up the economy and society - and it takes more of a conscious effort on the part of all of us as we open up to keep the virus under control.

Sticking to the restrictions still in place - particularly on indoor activity - is absolutely essential, and I cannot stress that enough.

One of the features of the new cases we’ve reported in recent days is that not all of them appear to be linked to larger clusters.

For example the figures in Greater Glasgow and Clyde seem to reflect a number of small clusters, rather than one or two more significant outbreaks.

However we are dealing with larger clusters in some areas.

On the most recent figures, which will be updated later today, there were 188 positive cases in the cluster linked to the Two Sisters plant in Coupar Angus – 164 employees of the factory, and 24 of their contacts. 

All employees at the factory – and their households – should continue to self-isolate until at least the end of today.

But if any worker, or household contact, has been given specific advice by the contact tracing team, they must follow that advice - especially if it extends their isolation period beyond today.

The plant is currently due to reopen from tomorrow.

Two Sisters are working closely with teams from the Health and Safety Executive, Food Standards Scotland and Environmental Health, to ensure that the reopening takes place safely.

An Incident Management Team is also looking at a cluster of cases in Ayrshire and Arran at the moment. That cluster currently has 22 positive cases – although that figure is likely to be updated later today.

Contact tracing is underway.

Many of these Ayrshire and Arran cases seem to be linked to indoor gatherings that took place the previous weekend.

That is a reminder of why it is so important to limit the number of people meeting indoors. Our advice is that no more than eight people from a maximum of three households should be meeting indoors.

The virus can spread easily across multiple households if larger gatherings are taking place.

Finally, I mentioned on Friday that there is a cluster of cases in Hawick.

The total number of cases in that cluster is now 15.

All contacts are being followed up, and self-isolation and testing has been recommended where appropriate.

A Mobile Testing Unit will be at the Teviotdale Leisure Centre car park in Hawick between 3pm and 5pm today and tomorrow, and all day on Wednesday.

It will also be available in Galashiels tomorrow morning for anyone who needs to get tested.

These mobile units are actually relevant to the second issue I want to briefly touch on today. 

From today, mobile testing units in Scotland - which have been up until now been run by the Army – will be taken over by the Scottish Ambulance Service.

This change was first agreed in July.

Since then, the Scottish Ambulance Service has recruited almost 500 new people to run the units, and has worked very closely with the military to ensure that those staff are able to take over operations.

As we are seeing, mobile units are playing a hugely important part in making testing more accessible – especially when there are clusters of cases in rural areas – and it makes sense therefore to have the Scottish Ambulance Service take these units over for the medium to long term.

I am very grateful to all of the new Scottish Ambulance Service employees who have filled these immensely important roles.

And I also want to say a massive thank you to all of the army staff who have been involved so far.

Establishing and running the mobile units has been a challenging project, but a hugely important one. The army’s hard work, professionalism and expertise has been greatly appreciated by me and everyone in the Scottish Government.

The third issue I want to touch on today relates to perinatal mental health care - support for mothers and babies in the period immediately before and after childbirth.

Improving this care has been a priority in recent years, and it is especially important now.

The need for physical distancing during the pandemic has increased the chance of new mums feeling isolated.

It has also made it more difficult for some third sector organisations – many of whom provide key perinatal services - to raise funds.

The Scottish Government is today announcing allocations from the Perinatal and Infant Mental Health Fund, which we established back in the spring.

This will provide up to £1 million a year for the next three years to support 15 third sector organisations delivering perinatal mental health services.

The funding will help to ensure that these services do not suffer as a result of the pandemic. 

And it will enable these organisations to help more mothers and babies, and support their mental health and physical wellbeing.

The final point I want to touch on is that several more changes to our route map out of lockdown take effect today.

Unregulated indoor activities for young people can resume – that’s cubs and brownies, and mother and baby groups for example.

In addition, gyms, swimming pools and indoor sports courts can reopen from today, although some facilities may take a little longer to get back up and running.

I should stress that we are not yet permitting adults and young people over the age of 12 to take part in contact activity indoors. That must wait for a further review.

The reopening of gyms and swimming pools is, I know, something that many people have been looking forward to for a long time. It will also be a major relief for many people who work in the leisure sector.

The reopening is a welcome further step in getting back to normal. It is also important to our wider health and wellbeing.

But it also, obviously, brings risks. There’s no getting away from that. That is why we have delayed this until now.

And we are seeing, as I’ve just been talking about, in our daily numbers that as we release ourselves from lockdown, we release the virus from lockdown as well.

So please as always - in fact this is more important now than it has been at any time up until now - make sure that you follow the guidance that is in place wherever you are and for any venue you are visiting, and cooperate with the staff working there. That’s the only way we can make sure that these reopenings happen safely, and that they don’t spark an increase in transmission that will take us all back again.

Those are the key points I want to cover today.

Before I hand over to the Deputy First Minister, I would like to end as always by stressing the importance of the public health advice.

The figures we are seeing just now for new cases demonstrate very clearly that the virus is still present across the country.

The accounts we are getting of clusters show that it will spread very rapidly if it gets the chance.

And of course the admissions into intensive care in the last week, although still at a low level, nevertheless remind us that the virus is still immensely dangerous for some people.

So please, continue to make sure that you are not doing anything that gives the virus the chance to spread.

When you are indoors – whether in a pub or restaurant, or in someone’s house - do not meet in groups of more than three households and make sure there is a maximum of eight people in any group.

Physically distance yourself from people in other households. None of that is easy, none of that feels natural, I understand that. But as we see from all of the data we are looking at, not doing these things is giving this virus the chance to take hold of us again.

And please, continue to follow all of the FACTS rules. These are the golden rules we can all follow to reduce our own chances of getting or spreading the virus.

•           Face coverings in enclosed spaces
•           Avoid crowded places
•           Clean your hands and hard surfaces regularly
•           Keep two metre distancing as a general rule
•           and remember to self-isolate, and book a test, if you have symptoms

It is absolutely vital that we all follow these basic precautions. We are right now in a very fragile situation. The transmission of the virus is increasing again. We can keep it under control if we all do the right things to help Test and Protect do its work, but it would not take much right now for the virus to get a grip of us again. Every single one of us has a responsibility to try to stop that happening. So I’m appealing to everybody watching today to continue to do the right things, and I’m appealing to all of you to spread that message as widely as you possibly can.

Thank you very much for listening to me today.

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