Good afternoon everyone, thank you for joining us today.
I want to start immediately today with a very important update on the cluster of cases that we have been dealing with in Aberdeen in recent days. And I would ask everyone in Aberdeen, and indeed Aberdeenshire, to take particular note of what I am about to report.
My comments will undoubtedly spark a lot of questions and so further detail will be provided later today, on the Scottish Government website, but I want to give the headline information direct to you now.
Firstly, let me set the context. When the Aberdeen cluster was initially reported by NHS Grampian - at the end of last week – there were four identified cases as part of it. Over the past few days, a Test and Protect team has been tracing the contacts of those individuals. They, and the local incident management team, are doing an exceptionally good job and they have my deep appreciation for that.
However, I can confirm that – as of now – a total of 54 cases have been confirmed as associated with that cluster – a total of 191 close contacts have already been traced, although we expect that number to rise over the course of today.
And in the past 24 hours, across the whole of Scotland, a total of 64 new cases have been reported.
A full health board breakdown will be available later as usual and I’ll come back to say more about the national figures shortly. But my provisional information is that 36 of these 64 new cases are in Grampian. Now, it is not yet clear how many are connected to the outbreak in Aberdeen and indeed let me be clear that some of these may already be counted in that most recent figure for the cluster that I have just given you.
But this high number of cases certainly heightens, considerably heightens our concern that we are dealing with a significant outbreak in Aberdeen that may involve some community transmission.
Now, the main link identified in this cluster, so far, has been the Hawthorn Bar in Aberdeen city centre. However, more detailed analysis by NHS Grampian and Test and Protect has shown that this one venue does not account for all the positive cases. Indeed in total now, more than 20 other licenced premises are part of the contact tracing picture.
So when we take all of this information together, we have been led to the conclusion that we must now take further immediate steps on a highly precautionary basis, to prevent further spread and to give the Test and Protect teams the best possible chance of successfully breaking these chains of transmission.
Earlier this morning I chaired a meeting of SGORR – which is, as you know, the Scottish Government’s resilience committee – because I wanted to consider the latest data that we had overnight and also what our response to that should be.
NHS Grampian, Police Scotland and the leaders and Chief Executive of Aberdeen City Council played a full part in that meeting and I’m very grateful to them for their constructive and very helpful contributions.
And I want to assure you that the decisions we agreed this morning and that I am about to confirm to you now are not being taken lightly. But we are at a stage of this pandemic where extreme caution is necessary and, also in my view, sensible.
I’m also mindful of the need to act quickly and decisively, if we are to succeed, in our aim of keep transmission as close to elimination levels as possible, and also to protect our priority - and it is our priority, you’ve heard me say that before - of getting young people back to school.
Indeed, I was struck this morning by a comment from the Children's Commissioner for England. She said and I’m quoting: ‘if the choice has to be made in a local area about whether to keep pubs or schools open, then schools must always take priority’.
I agree with that and so did the leaders of Aberdeen City Council. And that is one of the very important reasons that we are taking firm action now.
So I can confirm that it was agreed at SGoRR this morning, albeit, as I’m sure you understand, extremely reluctantly, to re-impose some restrictions on the Aberdeen City Area and I want to set out what those restrictions are. Though let me remind you, because I know, particularly for people living in Aberdeen, that there will be lots of questions, that we will make more detail available over the course of today, to give as much clarity to people, as possible.
But firstly – our travel guidance to people in Aberdeen, from today, is that you should no longer travel more than five miles for leisure or recreational purposes. You may continue to travel for work or education, but we advise against other travel. We are also advising people who are not in Aberdeen, not to travel to Aberdeen. If you are already in Aberdeen, visiting family or on holiday, you can stay, but please follow all of the guidance while you are there and take extra care when you return home.
Secondly, from today people in Aberdeen should not go into each other’s houses. Extended household groups can continue – but remember, those are situations which should only involve one other adult, who is living on their own.
And finally we will be introducing regulations, we will publish these later today, requiring all indoor and outdoor hospitality in the city to close by 5pm today. That includes all bars, restaurants, cafes and pubs. Hotel restaurants can remain open – but to provide food for residents only and takeaway services can continue, but all other pubs and restaurants and cafes must close.
This restriction on hospitality will be backed by regulation, so if necessary, it will be enforced, but I would expect, given the responsible way they have behaved in recent days, that owners of these businesses in Aberdeen will act voluntarily and continue to be responsible and I want to thank businesses in the hospitality trade for their co-operation so far.
These regulations and the associated guidance and advice will be reviewed in seven days’ time – by which time I hope that we will be in a better position to judge the scale and the trajectory of this outbreak.
And at that point, if these restrictions can be removed, we will remove them, in their entirety or in part. But I should also give notice that if it is considered necessary, we may extend them beyond the initial seven day period.
Finally, if you are contacted by Test and Protect in Aberdeen, please comply with their advice. In fact, if you are contacted by Test and Protect anywhere in Scotland, please comply fully with their advice, particularly, in relation to self-isolation.
And we will also make available this afternoon, a list of the more than 20 licensed premises that are part of the contact tracing operation in Aberdeen. And if you have been in one of these premises in the last two weeks, but have not been identified as a close contact, our advice is to still be extra vigilant, looking out for symptoms and also to particularly rigorously follow all of the FACTS public health advice.
Now, I know that all of this is deeply, deeply unwelcome news for people in Aberdeen, it’s very unwelcome news for all of us, I did not want to be standing here today making these announcements and I’m very sorry that we are in this position.
I understand the impact these measures will have – on individuals and businesses, though let me emphasise that where a business has brought staff out of furlough, those staff can be re-furloughed, as part of the Jobs Retention Scheme.
But generally, the last thing we want to do is to re-impose these kinds of restrictions. But this outbreak is reminding us just how highly infectious COVID is. So our precautionary and careful judgement is that we need to take decisive action now, difficult though that undoubtedly is, in order to try to contain this outbreak and prevent further harm later on.
As I said earlier, this is also about doing everything we can to ensure our children can return to school next week.
Aberdeen schools are holding orientation sessions from next Wednesday, with schools due to open fully the following Monday, 17th August. Acting now, we judge, gives us the time and the space to protect the ability of our young people to return to education.
We’ve seen plenty of instances – in other countries – where outbreaks have run out of control – because action has been taken too late. There are no guarantees for any of us, in any of this but we want to do all we possibly can, to try to avoid that happening here.
Now let me turn to the normal statistical update for the whole of Scotland.
As I’ve already reported, an additional 64 positive cases were confirmed yesterday – which includes the 36 in Grampian, that I mentioned earlier. There are also 15 cases, according to my provisional information that have been reported in the Greater Glasgow and Clyde area and we will be paying very close attention to those and any possible patterns as well.
These 64 cases, which is the highest daily number we’ve reported for quite some time, represent 1.3% of the people who were newly tested yesterday, and they take the total number of positive cases in Scotland now to 18,781.
A total of 267 patients are currently in hospital who have been confirmed with the virus. That is three fewer than the number yesterday.
And a total of three people last night were in intensive care with confirmed COVID-19. Yesterday’s reported figure of four was later revised down to three, so today’s number is actually the same as yesterday.
And finally, in some very welcome good news today, I am glad 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-19 and the total number of deaths, under this measurement, remains at 2,491.
However, the National Records of Scotland has just published its weekly report. It includes deaths of people who have been confirmed through a test as having COVID just like our daily figures but it also covers cases where the virus has been entered on a death certificate as a suspected or contributory cause of death - even if a test hadn’t been carried out. That is a wider measure, and therefore captures more cases.
The latest NRS report covers the period to Sunday 2 August. At that point, we had 2,491 deaths recorded of people who had tested positive for the virus. Although, none of those deaths had been registered in the seven days up to Sunday.
Today’s report shows that, by Sunday, the total number of registered deaths with either a confirmed or a presumed link to COVID was 4,208. And of those, seven were registered in the seven days up to Sunday which is a decrease of one from the week before.
Two of those seven deaths were in care homes, which is the same number as the previous week.
National Records of Scotland has also reported that the total number of deaths recorded last week – from all causes - was 40 higher than the five year average for the same time of year.
I’ll put that into some context though, last week the average was 16 lower than; the week before it was 37 higher; the week before that, it was 49 lower. So it’s not unusual for that number to fluctuate a little bit.
In general, though these figures show the same trend as our daily figures. They confirm that COVID as of now has been driven to very low levels in Scotland but the main part of my update today is to remind all of us that there is absolutely no room for complacency.
The figures also remind us that more than 4,000 people have lost their lives to this virus.
Each one of those, was an irreplaceable human being, whose loss will be mourned by many and my condolences again go to everybody who has lost a loved one.
And I also want to thank all of our health and care workers – not least today, those in Grampian, including our public health teams working there – for the incredible job that they continue to do.
To close today, before I hand over to the Chief Medical Officer, I want to return to a familiar, but very important, point. And it feels even more important today.
This virus hasn’t gone away. If you doubted that then today we have evidence of how true that is. It is still out there – and it is still highly infectious and it is still highly dangerous.
The outbreak in Aberdeen is a sharp reminder of that. It shows what can happen, if we let our guard drop. And it should serve as a warning to all of us.
Just because many of the restrictions have been eased across the country, doesn’t mean we can simply go back to normal. We are still in a real daily battle with this virus. And so we must all continue to exercise extreme caution.
Test and Protect is vital and it is doing a fantastic job. But Test and Protect cannot beat the virus all on its own and it is absolutely not some kind of ‘Get out of jail free’ card for the rest of us.
Every single one of us are the first line of defence against this virus, if the virus gets past us, Test and Protect steps in and tries to keep it under control, and as I say, so far, they are doing a really good job. But by definition, their job is always firefighting. Our job, as citizens, as human beings, is to try to make sure the fires don’t start in the first place. We need to make sure that the virus doesn’t get past our defences.
The FACTS campaign summarises the five rules we must follow, whenever we are out and about. So please, remember FACTS, and please stick to these rules wherever you are.
- F - Face coverings in enclosed spaces – shops, public transport or anywhere else inside that physical distancing might be more difficult.
- A - Avoid crowded places. Indoors, obviously, but outdoors as well. Avoid all crowded places.
- C - Clean your hands and hard surfaces regularly.
- T - Two metre distancing remains the overall advice.
- and S - Self isolate, and book a test, if you have any of the symptoms of COVID.
If we all remember these five basic measures, then we can all help to make sure that we keep this virus in retreat and don’t allow it to get a grip of us again.
So my thanks to everyone who is abiding by that and my thanks in particular, not just for past efforts but for the difficulties I know you will be facing in the days ahead, to everybody in Aberdeen and we will continue to do everything we can to get this virus there under control and to keep you fully updated on all developments.
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