Coronavirus (COVID-19) update: First Minister's speech 7 July 2020

Statement given by the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at a media briefing in St Andrew's House, Edinburgh on Tuesday 7 July.

Good afternoon everyone, thank you for joining us.

I will start with the usual update on the most recent COVID-19 statistics.

An additional 2 positive cases were confirmed yesterday - that takes the total now in Scotland to 18,302.

A total of 699 patients are currently in hospital with either confirmed or suspected cases of the virus. That is 17 more than yesterday overall, but it includes a reduction of 8 in the number of confirmed cases.

A total of 7 people last night were in intensive care with confirmed or suspected covid. That is 1 fewer than yesterday.

Since 5 March, a total of 4,102 patients who had tested positive and been admitted to hospital, have now been discharged from hospital.

However, I am afraid that during the last 24 hours, 1 death was registered of a patient confirmed through a test as having COVID-19. That takes the total number of deaths in Scotland, under that measurement, to 2,489.

I, of course, want to send my condolences to that person’s loved ones – and of course to everyone who has lost a loved one to this illness over these past few months.

I also want to thank, as always, our health and care workers. The entire country continues is grateful to you for what you have done and continue to do.

Now, I have three things I want to briefly update you on today before taking questions.

The first relates to the cluster of new Covid cases in Dumfries and Galloway last week. In total, 12 cases were identified as part of that cluster, and 23 contacts have been traced.

There were no new cases relating to this cluster yesterday. The view of the Incident Management Team, is that all chains of infection within Dumfries and Galloway have now been identified and controlled.

As a result, I can confirm that we are today lifting the recommended travel restriction that had applied to people in certain postcodes around Gretna, Dumfries and Annan. Our advice now is that people in those areas – like everyone else in Scotland – can travel more than 5 miles for leisure purposes.

However, like everyone else, they must follow strict advice summarised in the FACTS campaign.

In addition, people can now visit care homes in those areas – in line with the same strict guidelines that apply elsewhere in Scotland.

I want to take the opportunity again today to thank everyone who has been involved - both in Dumfries and Galloway, and also in Cumbria - in controlling this outbreak and in implementing Test and Protect so effectively.

I also want to thank the employers who enabled the rapid testing of their workforces; the contacts who co-operated by self-isolating when asked; and everyone in the affected postcodes, who stuck to the travel restrictions.

Although we all have a part to play in seeking to avoid this, it is the case, as we continue to lift restrictions of lockdown, there will inevitably be more clusters like this one in the weeks and months ahead and so it is reassuring, while we are absolutely not complacent, to see that this one appears to have been controlled so rapidly and so effectively. I am very grateful to everyone who played a part in achieving that outcome.

The second issue I want to raise today relates to the economic statement being made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer tomorrow.

The Scottish Government wrote to the UK Government on Saturday, to highlight again our view that an £80 billion stimulus programme is needed for the UK economy. To put that in context, that would be roughly comparable in ambition to the programme that Germany has recently adopted.

We believe that the UK’s programme should tackle inequalities, support jobs, and have a strong focus on investment in low carbon and digital infrastructure.

We have also recommended an employment guarantee for young people – a policy the Scottish Government is looking at ourselves. And we have called for a temporary cut in VAT to boost consumption - with especially low rates for our hospitality and tourism sectors.

Finally, we have proposed that Scotland should have greater financial powers – for example over borrowing – so that we can play our own part in, and shape our own response to, the economic implications of the pandemic.

It’s worth stressing again that the Scottish Government has on several occasions welcomed policies adopted by the Treasury during this pandemic – for example the job retention scheme, and this week’s support for the culture sector and I want to again say how appreciated, how welcomed and how important these kinds of interventions are.

We hope that we will be able to give a welcome to tomorrow’s statement as well but for that to happen, the policies put forward must meet the scale of the economic challenges that the UK faces and I very much hope that they will do.

The proposals that we have put forward on a constructive basis, are ambitious, practical, and sustainable. They, as I say, have been put forward in a spirit of collaboration and partnership. And we believe they would benefit Scotland and the whole of the UK. I therefore hope that they will be adopted tomorrow.

The need for ambition in economic policy is demonstrated by the final issue I want to briefly update on.

The Scottish Government currently publishes information about the Scottish Welfare Fund on a monthly basis.

The most recent report has been published today, and includes information about crisis grants.

Those are the payments we make available for people on low incomes who are suffering an unexpected and unavoidable financial emergency – for example if they take on caring responsibilities suddenly, and have to pay an unforeseen bill; or if they face a sudden gap in income because they have been made unemployed, and await redundancy or benefit payments.

Today’s report shows that the total value of crisis grant payments in May was more than 40% higher than in May last year. It also shows, however, that the value of payments in May was slightly lower than in March and April of this year, when there was a very large increase at the beginning of lockdown.

These increases demonstrate why the Scottish Government more than doubled the Scottish Welfare Fund in March. We knew then that the necessary public health measures needed to control Covid, would cause financial, emotional and health difficulties in households across the country.

They also provide a further illustration of why we do need to see further economic and fiscal stimulus so we can minimise the economic harm that has been caused by lockdown. And to demonstrate once again, of course why emerging from lockdown for all of us is so essential. We cannot, and this is a statement of the obvious, we cannot go on indefinitely, with severe restrictions on our economy and our way of life.

That is why I hope to be able to confirm on Thursday that we are moving to phase 3, in our route map out of lockdown.

However, and this point is just as important, it is also why we are determined to ensure that our emergence from lockdown, is safe and sustainable. We must absolutely minimise the risk of going back into lockdown later on in the year because we have allowed the virus to run out of control again.

That risk is a very real one - and we must not ever lull ourselves into a sense that we are somehow immune from it. If you doubt that, I would encourage you to take a look at what’s happening in other parts of the world.

In recent days in Australia, Melbourne and its surrounding areas have gone back into lockdown - new cases from community transmission there appear to be higher than in March/April. In Spain, Galicia and Catalonia are reinstating lockdown measures. So is Belgrade in Serbia.

And we are continuing to see a surge in cases in many parts of the United States.

Covid cases in Scotland are currently very low, down to the collective efforts of anyone. But we are still seeing some cases every day. The virus is still out there and it will easily come back if we allow it to.

As we lift the measures that have kept it under control, the risks of transmission increase again. It stands to reason as we start to interact more, we provide more opportunities for the virus to spread.

Outbreaks and clusters - as I said earlier - will happen.

But it is down to all of us to minimise the chances of them happening and to make sure that when they do happen, they don’t spread.

So in everything we do – particularly as you get out and about a bit more - we should be conscious of every possible bridge you might be providing for the virus to spread from one person to another or one household to another, so that we can avoid giving it those opportunities.

That is why we keep on stressing our public health campaign - Facts. It summarises the five key things all of us must remember in everything we do. And if these five things are all you remember over this next period, please make sure that you do remember them and that you apply them in your everyday lives. So just to run through again what they are:

· Face coverings should be worn in enclosed spaces such as shops and public transport. From Friday - as we go into I hope phase 3 - face coverings will be mandatory by law in shops with obvious exceptions, for people with medical conditions or young children. They already are in public transport.
· Avoid crowded places - indoors and outdoors.
· Clean your hands and any hard surfaces that you touch regularly.
· Two metre distancing remains the general rule.
· and self-isolate, and book a test, if you experience any symptoms of covid, don’t wait to do that, do that immediately.

If all of us remember these five basic measures, then we will minimise the opportunities for the virus to spread as we start to get back to normal and in doing that we will keep ourselves safe and will help to protect others and undoubtedly we will save lives.

So please continue to do all of these things as we slowly, carefully but steadily get our economy and our society back to normal. If we follow these measures then we will do that without giving the virus the chance to spread again which would take us back to the start of this.

So my thanks for your cooperation to date and please keep following these important public health rules.

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