Coronavirus (COVID-19) update: First Minister's speech 8 July 2020

Statement given by the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at the media briefing in St Andrew's House, Edinburgh on Wednesday 8 July.

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Good afternoon everyone, welcome to today’s update.

My remarks are going to be a bit longer than normal because there is one issue, the issue of air bridges, I want to update you on today and it’s a bit complex so I want to take a bit of time to go through that.

But firstly, I’ll start with an update on the latest figures.

Since yesterday, an additional 7 cases of covid have been confirmed, which takes the total number now to 18,309.

A total of 767 patients are currently in hospital with either suspected or confirmed COVID-19, which is an increase of 68 overall since yesterday, but includes a decrease of 18 in the number of confirmed cases.

As of last night, 11 people were in intensive care with confirmed or suspected COVID-19, which is an increase of 4 the number that I reported yesterday – but that increase is all in suspected cases.

Since 5 March, a total of 4,106 patients who had tested positive for COVID-19 and required hospital admission, have now been able to leave hospital.

Unfortunately, in the last 24 hours, 1 death has been registered of a person who had been confirmed as having the virus and that takes the total number of deaths under that measurement to 2,490.

In addition, National Records of Scotland has just published its more detailed weekly report.

This includes deaths of people who have been confirmed by a test as having the virus and also cases where the virus was entered on a death certificate as a suspected or contributory cause of death - even if its presence had not confirmed by a test.

The latest NRS report covers the period to Sunday 5 July. At that point, if you recall according to our daily figures, 2,488 deaths of people who had tested positive for the virus had been registered.

However, today’s report shows that, by Sunday, the total number of registered deaths with either a confirmed or a presumed link to the virus was 4,173. 17 were registered in the seven days up to Sunday, which is a decrease of 18 from the previous week

This is tenth consecutive week in which the number of deaths from the virus has fallen.

Deaths in care homes made up less than a quarter of all Covid deaths last week - the number of COVID-19 deaths in care homes reduced from 16 to 4.

Finally, the total number of deaths recorded last week – from all causes - was 40 below the five year average for the same time of year. This is the second week in a row that the total number of deaths has been below that 5 year average.

National Records of Scotland has also published today a report on the breakdown of COVID-19 deaths by ethnic group.

It concludes that deaths among people from the South Asian ethnic group, were almost twice as likely to involve COVID-19, as deaths in the White ethnic group. That conclusion is reached after accounting for age, sex, deprivation and whether people live in urban or rural areas.

We do not have sufficient evidence to say that deaths among people in any other ethnic groups were more likely to involve covid.

You may remember that Public Health Scotland looked at this issue back in May, and at that stage found no evidence of a correlation between ethnicity and death rates.

However today’s NRS report has been able to cross reference death registrations with the 2011 census data, so it is more comprehensive – at least in relation to registered deaths – than the earlier study.

This new data will be considered by our COVID-19 and Ethnicity Expert Reference Group which meets tomorrow. Their views will help us to consider what further action is required.

Overall, these weekly statistics confirm what our daily data has also been telling us - Scotland has made real and sustained progress against this virus.

However the numbers also speak of heartbreak for too many people. We can take comfort in the trend of recent weeks, but every single death is a tragedy. I want to send my condolences to everyone who is grieving the loss of a loved one.

I also want, as I always do, to thank our health and care workers, and indeed all of our key workers who have been so magnificent throughout in this crisis.

Tomorrow I will give an update to Parliament at the slightly earlier time of 12.20. I hope then to confirm that Scotland can move from phase 2 of our route map out of lockdown, to phase 3.

And in a few moments, the Cabinet Secretary is going confirm some changes for those who are Shielding. Changes which will take effect at the end of this week.

As we make changes in wider society – opening up hospitality, allowing more people to meet up outside, travelling outside our local communities – it is I think really important we remember that there are thousands of people in the shielded category, for whom life remains severely restricted right now.

They cannot go for a drink or a coffee – and even more significantly, in some cases, they have had to physically distance from their own households for the last three months. We must not underestimate how difficult this period has been and indeed continues to be for them.

That perhaps gives some context and perhaps a sense of perspective to the main issue I need to address today, which relates to international travel – and particularly the requirement to enter 14 day self-isolation, or quarantine, when you return to or enter Scotland from countries outside the UK and Ireland, because Ireland has never been included in the UK quarantine arrangements.

You will recall from some weeks back that as a result of the genome sequencing of the virus - something we have discussed here before – we now know that many of the strands of COVID-19 introduced into Scotland, came here through overseas travel. In particular, they arrived as a result of travel to and from mainland Europe in late February and early March.

Since then of course over 4,173 people have died, and though those numbers are increasing far more slowly now, and the numbers of cases each day is very small, we should not forget the potential of this virus to do serious harm - both in lives lost and also, as is increasingly feared, in longer term damage to health.

As we look ahead now, we must be aware, that one of our biggest risk factors as we suppress the virus here, is the importation of new cases to Scotland, that then of course have the potential to spread.

That risk is illustrated very well I think by the situation in Australia right now. Melbourne, it’s second biggest city, has gone from virtual elimination of the virus to a new six week lockdown in a very short space of time – and while there are still investigations of that underway, there are indications that this may well have been from cases coming into the country.

It is also the case that one of the criteria that we must satisfy ourselves of, for our move to phase 3 – one of the criteria set out by the World Health Organisation - is the need to “Manage the risk of exporting and importing cases from communities with high risks of transmission.”

This is an issue which becomes more and more important, as fewer and fewer people within Scotland have the virus.

On the other side of that, I know, and am acutely aware of how important international travel is for our tourist sector and for the aviation industry.

So these decisions are really difficult - not least for a government like ours that celebrates free movement and cherishes Scotland’s reputation as open and welcoming - and we do not take these decisions lightly.

On Friday, the UK Government published a list of 59 countries and territories for which it would no longer for England, impose quarantine restrictions. The information underpinning that list, separated countries into a green or low risk category and an amber or medium risk category.

In the green category are 39 countries or territories, which either have very low rates of Covid or very small populations, and therefore considered low risk.

And in the amber group are 20 countries where the risks are considered to be greater and so classed as medium.

Those green and amber ratings are decided on the basis of two factors - first, the prevalence of the virus in each country, and second an assessment of the current situation – based on things like numbers of new cases and local outbreaks – conducted initially by Public Health England.

Thanks to the efforts that all of us have made, as we know, Scotland now has a low and declining prevalence of Covid. I’m going to refer to this issue of prevalence a little bit, so it’s worth stressing that these estimates change regularly, and that they always have ranges attached to them. So when I quote figures, I am always quoting the middle number in our estimated range.

Our current central estimate for Scotland right now is that for every 100,000 people in the population, 28 people have Covid. That’s a prevalence of 0.028%.

We are not yet at the stage where we can say that we have virtually eliminated the virus within the community, but that prize is clearly attainable, and brings with it the prospect of a much brighter future and more sustainable recovery, including in particular, the return of full time education in August.

Scotland’s position is a bit different from that of the UK as a whole. Across the UK, it is estimated that around 180 people in every 100,000 currently have Covid.

That’s higher than the 28 which is our central estimate for Scotland. And this is relevant to the decisions we take on the relaxation of quarantine.

Amongst those countries that the UK Government has rated as amber, quite a few – including for example Denmark, Greece and the Netherlands - have a prevalence range which is lower than Scotland’s.

However there are others, such as Spain in particular, that have a significantly higher prevalence. As reported by the Joint Biosecurity Centre, the prevalence of the virus in Spain is around 330 people in every 100,000 have Covid.

That means the rate reported for Spain, while less than twice the rate for the UK as a whole, is more than 10 times the estimated rate for Scotland.

And this variation in the amber countries, feeds into the decision we are making today.

Alongside prevalence, there is also an assessment of risk. The four CMOs agreed last week to do further work to improve the methodology behind the risk assessments for each country, ensuring that a wider range of factors can be considered and that we can effectively assess whether outbreaks in different countries are being effectively contained.

Once that work has been completed – which I hope is within days - we hope to will be able to make more targeted assessments in future, taking greater account of how different countries are managing to control the virus.

The decision we are making today, however, makes some distinction between countries given green and amber status by the UK Government.

Let me set out that decision.

I can confirm that from 10th of July onwards, if you are travelling to Scotland from any of the 39 places the UK Government has rated as green, we will not require you to self-isolate upon arrival in Scotland. A full list of those countries will be published on our website – however they include Germany, Austria, Norway and Malta.

Australia is also on that list, so let me mention that now. Despite the recent outbreak in Melbourne which I talked about, it is still assessed to be a low risk country. Because, as I mentioned – they have acted quickly to impose a strict localised lockdown so people in Melbourne can’t travel

We will also lift quarantine for the countries on the amber list that have a prevalence below or not significantly higher than Scotland. That list includes France, Greece, the Netherlands, Italy, and Poland.

However unfortunately, and I do mean that, we cannot in good conscience at this stage lift restrictions on people arriving from Spain because of the significantly higher prevalence.

We also have concerns about Serbia – where a recent outbreak has led neighbouring states to close their borders with that country. The impact of that outbreak will not be seen in the data for a couple of weeks.

So the decision the Cabinet reached this morning is that the quarantine requirements cannot be immediately lifted for Spain and Serbia.

Now, let me be clear: I hope that we will be able to add Spain - and possibly Serbia - to the exemption list, either in full or perhaps in part at the next review point which is on the 20th July.

To that end, we will be liaising closely in the coming week with the relevant authorities as well as with airports and airlines, to gather more information on control of outbreaks and prevalence, and what other mitigations such as testing we could possibly put in place as an alternative.

Now, this has been a very difficult decision but, but as I hope I have demonstrated today, and I know I have taken quite a bit of time to do, it is evidence driven - and motivated only by a determination to protect Scotland as far as possible from a resurgence of this virus in the weeks ahead.

Let me make three further quick points about this.

Firstly, all countries are keeping these issues under review, so depending on developments with the virus, they are subject to change including the reimposition of quarantine - including at short notice - so you should always be aware of that if you are planning to travel.

Secondly, for the future, we are also looking closely at whether there are alternative measures that could replace or reduce the amount of time an individual is required to quarantine and will seek to discuss these with airports and others over the next few days.

And the third point I wish to stress, because there is a misconception about this, you cannot get round the requirement to quarantine in Scotland by flying to or from an airport in England.

Public Health Scotland will have access to contact details for people staying in Scotland, regardless of whether an individual arrives in Glasgow, Manchester or London and it will carry out sample checks as you will have heard started yesterday.

This decision – which has not been easy for the Government to reach – is also not an easy one to hear for many in the travel, tourism and aviation sectors. And I know how many people from Scotland enjoy travelling to Spain and how much we love welcoming Spanish tourists.

My hope is that these restrictions can be relaxed soon – and possibly very soon. But at present, this is the best balance we can arrive at between enabling greater freedom of movement and protecting public health which is so important given the risks we face

I’m aware that this has been quite a detailed statement. As I say, an up to date list of countries and territories from which you can, as of Friday travel to Scotland without quarantine will be will be published on the Scottish Government’s website. Let me stress though that just because you don’t have to quarantine when you come to Scotland from these countries, it doesn’t mean you don’t need to comply with all the other rules and guidance in place here, you do.

Now I’ll hand over to the Cabinet Secretary in a moment to talk about shielding but before I do , let me emphasis exactly the advice that we are asking everybody to follow - the Facts advice –
· Face coverings in shops and public transport.
· Avoid crowded places.
· Clean your hands and hard surfaces regularly.
· Two metre distancing. 
· and Self isolate, and book a test, if you have any of the symptoms of covid.

If we all stick to these five measures, whether we live here or if we’re visiting Scotland, if we all stick to these five measures, we minimise the risk of the virus spreading again.

Thank you for listening and for bearing with me through what I know was not just a lengthy, but quite a complex in places, update but I do believe it is important to share as far as possible, not just the decisions we are reaching but the evidence and the process of decisions that underpins them.

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