Coronavirus (COVID-19) update: First Minister's speech 4 August 2020

Statement given by the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at the media briefing in St Andrew's House, Edinburgh on Tuesday 4 August.

I’m going to turn in a moment to the usual statistical update about COVID, but before I do that I want to say a special word to all young people across the country who are receiving their SQA results today.

It’s a long time, a very long time, since I got my results, but I still remember it like it was yesterday. It is a really big moment in a young person’s life so I hope you got what you were hoping for, but if you didn’t it is really important to remember that there are lots of options open to you, not least, in the immediate sense, the option to appeal.

And whatever your results are, you should all be incredibly proud of the way you have coped with the challenges of the past few months.

At a moment’s notice you had to adapt to new forms of learning. Your contact with friends and family was restricted. Many of you have missed out on a proper end to your final year. You didn’t get to sit exams. And of course you are now having to think about your future at a time of real economic uncertainty.

All of that has been really tough and we don’t underestimate how tough it has been. And I know that, for some of you, there will be difficult decisions that lie ahead.

Later on in my remarks I am going to say a bit more about where you can get some advice and support if you need it and the Deputy First Minister will also say a bit more about the process of producing your results this year.

But the main thing I want to say at the outset is that you all deserve enormous credit for your patience, for the sacrifices you’ve made and for all the hard work you’ve put in. So well done to all of you.

Now, as usual, I’ll give the update on today’s COVID figures. An additional 23 positive cases were confirmed yesterday which represents 0.9% of the people who were newly tested yesterday and it takes the total number of cases in Scotland now to 18,717.

A full health board breakdown will be available later, as usual, but the provisional information I have is that 15 of the 23 cases are in the Grampian health board area. It is not yet clear how many are connected to the ongoing outbreak in Aberdeen and I will say a bit more about that outbreak shortly.

I can also report that a total of 270 patients are currently in hospital with confirmed COVID which is 5 more than yesterday.

And a total of 4 people last night were in intensive care with confirmed COVID-19 which is 1 more than yesterday.

Finally, I am very pleased to say that, yet again during the past 24 hours, no deaths were registered of a patient confirmed through a test in the past 28 days as having COVID.  The total number of deaths under that measurement remains at 2,491.

We are of course reporting fewer deaths on a daily basis now, but the total reminds us of the impact this virus has had on too many families across the country so again I want to extend my thoughts to everyone who has lost a loved one.

And as always, let me say a big thank you to everyone working hard to help us keep COVID under control and also to deal with its many consequences.

There are a few items I want to briefly touch on today before I hand over to the Deputy First Minister. 

Firstly, I want to provide a further update on that cluster of cases in Aberdeen which is linked to the Hawthorn Bar in the city. I can confirm that, as of now, 27 positive cases have been identified as part of the cluster though, let me be clear, I would expect that number to rise.

I can also confirm that, so far, 120 contacts have been traced through the Test and Protect system.

The Incident Management Team, which is led by NHS Grampian, will meet again this afternoon and they continue to take all necessary steps to try to minimise the risk of further transmission.  And I am extremely grateful to them for their considerable efforts.

Investigations of course are ongoing and we will provide more details as and when they become available.

However, this particular cluster is another reminder that this virus is still out there and has not gone away. It remains extremely infectious and, of course, it remains extremely dangerous and all of us have a part to play in denying it the opportunity to spread.

I talked yesterday about the importance of our Test and Protect system in helping us to contain these kinds of incidents so I think it is worth me reminding you of one of the key elements of that system.

If you are contacted by a Test and Protect team and advised that you are a close contact of someone who has tested positive for COVID you must self-isolate for 14 days. That should be seen as non-negotiable. The team might ask you, or arrange for you, to take a test. If they don’t do that you should only book a test yourself if you have symptoms.

If you are a close contact of an identified case and you do get tested, and this bit is really important for me to convey very clearly to you, if you do get tested you must self-isolate for 14 days even if you test negative.

And that’s because, given what we know about the incubation of this virus, it is entirely possible that you have the virus in your system, but it hasn’t had time to develop so it doesn’t show up in the test. For example, on a Monday, you might test negative for the virus, but by the Tuesday you might have developed the virus without knowing it.

At that point, you might be infectious and yet it might not be until the Thursday or the Friday that you start to show any symptoms. In fact, you might never show any significant symptoms at all, but if you are not self-isolating, you could nevertheless still be spreading the virus.

That’s really tough to say to people that, even if you have tested negative for this virus, if you are a close contact you have to self-isolate for 14 days, but that is partly what makes this virus so difficult to deal with, but it is also why self-isolation is so important and so necessary.

And I want to give a special message to employers. Please don’t think that testing any of your staff who are deemed to be close contacts of a positive case is an alternative to them self-isolating. That is absolutely not the case and I must stress that. There are simply no shortcuts here when it comes to trying to contain the spread of this virus.

All of us need to comply with the requirements of Test and Protect otherwise it won’t work and that includes, and is possibly the most important element of this, self-isolation. If we do all comply we can help to contain these kinds of incidents when they do occur and we can ensure that, rather than going into reverse, we can continue our exit from lockdown.

That brings me to the second point I want to briefly touch on and that’s about how we are trying to track the course of the pandemic here in Scotland.

The daily statistics I share with you obviously provide us with really important information about the spread of the virus, but because of the time it takes COVID to incubate, some of these statistics only reflect what might have been happening in the community two or three weeks previously.

That’s one of the reasons why the lockdown restrictions are reviewed every three weeks because it gives us time to assess the impact of any changes that we make.

At this point, of course, as we come further out of lockdown, the risks are heightened and it becomes more important that we have early warning, as early as possible, of any new trends.

That’s why we are increasingly looking to use a form of modelling which helps to estimate changes in the epidemic and model and estimate those as early as possible before they come through the daily statistics that I report to you.

That modelling just now is carried out by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and it involves using online surveys to gather information about people’s social behaviour.

The surveys are run every two weeks and they ask about a range of different topics from people’s contact with others to recent travel to their use of face masks, for example.

At the moment, very few people from Scotland are included in those surveys so the modelling is of more limited value to us in assessing a particular situation here. So that’s why we intend to establish a Scottish version of the survey.

It will feed into the other modelling work that’s already carried out and it will help to produce results which are more relevant and therefore more applicable to Scotland.

We are looking for 3,000 members of the public to take part. As a starting point we’ll be sending invitations to those who have previously been involved in our population surveys.

But we will also need volunteers over and above that so I would urge anyone who is interested to find out more on the Scottish Government’s Twitter feed. I will make sure there is information there later today.

By volunteering, you’ll be helping us to improve our understanding of the epidemic and you’ll be helping to ensure that we can identify and respond quickly to any changes that threaten the progress we’ve made.

Finally today, before I conclude, I want to return to the issue of the SQA results. 138,000 learners from across the country should by now have received their results and I’m sure that for many of you and for your families the build up to this day has been very tense and I really do hope that you got the exams results that you wanted.

But if you didn’t and you’re feeling disappointed right now, please bear in mind that this is just the beginning. There will be many more opportunities ahead and you do have plenty of options.

It’s also important to note that there is advice and support there for you if you need it.

For example, if you have a question about your results or if you want to appeal the results you got today you should contact your school, college or training provider. The SQA is this year running a free appeal service.

There’s also an SQA Candidate Advice Line and I’m about to read out the number for that.

You should call the advice line if you have questions about your certificate, for example, if you need help understanding it, or you think there’s something missing from it. That line is now open and the number is 0345 279 1000.

Alternatively, if you want advice or information about what comes next you can call Skills Development Scotland’s dedicated helpline. Again, I’ll read out that number shortly.

That helpline offers free, impartial advice for young people, parents and carers.  And it will help you to learn about your options for the future whether that’s staying on at school, going to college or university, taking on an apprenticeship or entering the world of work.

The number for the helpline is 0808 100 8000. And I would encourage you if you need a bit of advice to give it a call. Again you will find these numbers on the Scottish Government Twitter feed later.

All of you have faced huge challenges this year, challenges which previous generations like mine and the Deputy First Minister’s could never have imagined so we are determined to do everything we can to ensure you have the support and opportunities you need as you start to think about your future.

I will hand on to the Deputy First Minister, now but before I do I will end, as I usually do, by reminding you once again of the Facts advice.

Those are the five key things all of us should remember in everything we do.

  • Face coverings must 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 immediately if you have symptoms.

It’s vital that all of us continue to follow these rules because if we don’t, we risk allowing the virus to take grip again and the consequences of that we know are very clear.

We only need to look at what’s happening elsewhere in the world to see that countries can go into reverse and restrictions can require to be re-imposed. We don’t want to have to do that here, but we will have no choice if the virus gets out of control.

And all of us have the power, the agency, and indeed the responsibility to minimise the chance of that happening and that is why it is vital that we follow and abide by these five rules.

So my thanks to everyone who is doing so. It is hugely appreciated.

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