Good afternoon, and thanks for joining us.
I will start as usual with a report on the COVID daily statistics.
The total number of positive cases reported yesterday was 800.
This represents 13.2% of people newly tested, and takes the total number of cases to 33,706.
303 of the cases were in Greater Glasgow and Clyde, 167 in Lanarkshire, and 164 in Lothian.
The remaining 196 cases were spread across 9 other health board areas.
I can also confirm that 262 people are in hospital – that is an increase of 44 from yesterday.
And 25 people are in intensive care, which is 3 more than yesterday.
And I regret to say that 2 further deaths have been registered of people who first tested positive for Covid during the previous 28 days. The total number of deaths, under that measurement is now 2,532.
That total reminds us once again of the potentially deadly impact of Covid and why we can’t be complacent about it. I want once again to pass on my condolences to everybody who has lost a loved one and particularly to those who have been bereaved recently.
I’m joined today by Jason Leitch, the National Clinical Director. He will say a few words shortly.
However I have just come from a meeting of the Scottish Cabinet, where we discussed plans for responding to the continuing increase in Covid.
Cabinet did not reach final decisions on any further measures this morning - further work is being done throughout day; and we will meet again early tomorrow morning.
I will then make a statement to Parliament tomorrow, when I will give a more detailed update of the current situation and set out any decisions about further measures that we have reached and the reasons for them.
What I want to do now - given the entirely understandable public anxiety about what the next few weeks might hold – is try to give you an insight into the Scottish Government’s current thinking, and the issues we are grappling with in coming to decisions.
And perhaps, most importantly of all - given talk of circuit breakers and speculation about what that might mean - I want to let you know what we are not proposing at this stage.
I should say I gave the other party leaders in Scotland a similar update last night and took their views on the current situation.
But first let me reflect - as frankly as I can. Back in April I said that I wanted to, as far as possible, treat you – the public – as grownups and include you in the decision making. It’s not always easy to do that as a government but I want today to be as open as I can about where we are now and some of the difficulties that are ahead for us.
And after 7 months of decisions that have been very difficult for me and the government to take and even more difficult for all of you to live with, I appreciate what I am about to say may seem like a big statement to make.
But in many ways, this is probably the most difficult decision point we have faced so far. Let me try to explain why.
Right now, as our figures demonstrate and like many countries, we face a sharply rising rate of infection again. Not as sharply rising as earlier in the year but it is rising quite markedly.
The situation is particularly pronounced in the central belt – in Greater Glasgow and Clyde, Lanarkshire, Lothian and now too we’re seeing evidence of that in Ayrshire and Arran and Forth Valley.
But not withstanding that it is particularly pronounced in the central belt, it is important to recognise that cases are rising everywhere across the country. And levels of infection are now in most parts of Scotland higher than we can be comfortable with.
Most parts of Scotland, and mainland Scotland in particular, have infection levels higher than 50 cases per 100,000. If you cast your mind back to the time we introduced a local lockdown for Aberdeen, the levels of infection that triggered that was around 20 cases per 100,000. That gives you a bit of context of the rising situation we are dealing with now.
We are also now seeing spread from the younger age groups of the population into older age groups.
And again as you’re seeing from today’s numbers, the numbers being admitted to hospital and intensive care and sadly the numbers of people dying, are also increasing.
Now, it’s important also to say that - partly because we reduced the virus to such low levels over the summer and partly, or mostly perhaps, because of the excellent work of Test & Protect - the situation is not out of control.
But it is a cause of increasing concern.
To give an illustration - two weeks ago, when I announced that people would not be able to now meet in each other’s homes, we were seeing an average of 285 new cases every day. That figure is now 729.
That shows you, even in those two weeks, how the situation has accelerated.
Of course, we have not yet seen the full impact of those household restrictions our case numbers.
We are hopeful that in the next few days – even without further intervention - we will start to see those restrictions slow the speed at which cases are rising.
But we cannot guarantee that this will be sufficient.
And the volume of new cases that we are now seeing - combined with the prospect of further increases - is the reason that the government is receiving very strong public health advice that action over and above the existing restrictions is necessary.
And this is there point where I particularly want to level with you and give you an insight into the decision process we are going through right now.
If this was a purely one-dimensional decision – where the immediate harm caused by Covid was the only thing we had to consider – it is possible that we would move in the direction of measures much closer to the kind of lockdown we had in March.
But, 7 months in, this can’t be and is not a one dimensional decision - it is very much a multi-dimensional decision.
We have to very carefully balance all the different harms caused by the pandemic.
That includes obviously the direct harm of the virus - which we must reduce – that part in not negotiable - but also the considerable harm that is being done to jobs and economy, which we have limited power to mitigate, and which also have an impact on people’s health and wellbeing.
And we have to consider the wider harms to health and wellbeing that the virus and the restrictions deployed to control it are now having on all of us.
Those wider harms weigh heavily and striking a balance that minimises all off them is not easy.
After all, we are now 7 months into this pandemic.
We know that the ongoing restrictions have an impact on our mental, physical and financial wellbeing.
And I think people – and I include myself in this - generally just find it harder to cope now with the implications of all of this than we did back in the Spring.
And on the positive side, unlike in March, we now have Test & Protect. This is working well, and as intended it is taking a lot of the strain of controlling the spread of virus.
So we need to take all of this into account.
And while as I said we haven’t reached final decisions on additional steps we might take, we’ve got some further consideration to do, I hope it is helpful in light of understandable speculation for me to be clear about some of the conclusions Cabinet has reached about what we are not proposing to do at this stage because of all of the different factors we are taking into account.
Let me be clear. We are not proposing another lockdown at this stage - not even on a temporary basis.
We are not going to be asking you to stay inside your own homes in the way we did back in March.
And while we have been asking people to think carefully about non essential travel, especially overseas - and while restrictions on travel may sometimes be an option for hotspot areas - we are not about to impose travel restrictions on the whole of the country.
We are not about to shut down the entire economy.
We are not about to halt the remobilisation of the NHS - it is vital that our National Health Service is there for non COVID conditions as well as there for everything we have to deal with in relation to COVID.
And - apart from the October holidays which are already planned - we are not proposing to close schools either wholly or even partially.
I hope all of that gives people some reassurance.
However, we are considering what additional targeted steps we can take over next couple of weeks - in addition to the household restrictions currently in place - to further stem the spread, while we continue to strengthen – which is an ongoing process – our overall resilience in terms of living with this virus.
That is our testing system which is working well but we continue to strengthen it, also making sure that around compliance with restrictions and with all of the FACTS advice, the regulations we expect employers to have in place, that all of that is working well. What further restrictions we need to do in the short term to help reduce the spread of the virus.
And inevitably – I know we talk a lot about all of the science here. And we will, if we announce further measures tomorrow, set out the rational for them. But sometimes when we talk about the spread of this virus, it is not complicated. The assessment we make has to focus on the kinds of settings - other than our own homes - where people are most likely to come together and either get the virus or pass it on to others.
These are the decisions we are considering over the course of today and we will set out tomorrow.
In taking them, we are also mindful of the harm caused by isolation - in particular for people who live on their own.
We are considering the extent to which any measures have to be taken nationally or regionally, or perhaps a bit of both.
And we are thinking of how we best mitigate the economic impact of any decisions we take, even within the limited powers the Scottish Government has.
Tomorrow’s statement will seek to address all of these issues.
None of this is easy – I’m not complaining about that, that is the job of government – but as I indicated, in many ways, this is the most difficult decision point yet.
When we took the decisions back in March, that focused on locking down to stop the virus, none of the economic and social harm had been done. We now have all of that to consider as well. These decisions have to be very carefully balanced.
And I know many of you will be thinking – for goodness sake just tell us what you want us to do, and many of you will be thinking for goodness sake just leave us alone.
All of that is understandable - and I know while we are considering these issues, the media speculation about what we might and might not do, which is entirely legitimate and also understandable – this is not a complaint, that also can contribute to a sense of anxiety.
What I have tried to do today is share more about the decision making process, the factors we are trying to weigh, any conclusions we have reached and what issues we are still considering.
I hope that approach is helpful - even if it doesn’t always provide the instant, clear-cut answers that I know everybody is keen to have.
However, whatever the future holds, one thing will always be constant.
Each and every one of us has power over this virus. And the best way for each and every single one of us to exercise that power every day is to abide by all of the regulations and guidance which is in place at any given time.
So as usual, I want to close today with a reminder of what those are right now.
None of us should be visiting each other’s homes at the moment – except for very specific exceptions such as caring for a vulnerable person, childcare, or if that is part of an extended household.
When you do meet outdoors, or indoor public places – the maximum group size is 6, from a maximum of two households.
Work from home if you can.
Download the Protect Scotland app.
And finally, remember the FACTS. Whatever other restrictions and rules and regulations are in place, it is compliance with FACTS that is the most important thing any of us can do.
- Face coverings
- Avoid crowded places.
- Clean hands and hard surfaces
- keep Two metres away from other households.
- and Self isolate, and book a test, if you have symptoms.
Thank you for listening and thank you for sticking with this.
I am acutely aware, not just as First Minister but as a citizen, of how horribly difficult all of this is and how all of us want for it to be over. It will be over soon, I hope. I can’t tell you the dates but we will be looking back at it at some point soon.
But right now, in order to get through it, we have to stick with all of this. We have to keep making the sacrifices and remember that while these decisions are more difficult than they have been, as there are more things we have to balance, at the heart of this is still a very simple but important imperative – and that is that we have to reduce the risk of people dying unnecessary from a very nasty virus.
Thank you very much for your persistence, forbearance and sacrifices.
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