Coronavirus (COVID-19) update: First Minister's speech 9 October 2020

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

Good afternoon, and thanks for joining us.

I will start with the usual report on the daily COVID statistics.

The total number of positive cases reported yesterday was 1,246.

That is 16.2% of people newly tested, and takes the total number of cases to 37,033.

440 of the cases were in Greater Glasgow and Clyde, 306 in Lanarkshire, and 192 in Lothian. 

The remaining cases were spread across 9 other health board areas.

I can also confirm that 397 people are currently in hospital – that is an increase of 20  since yesterday.

33 people are now in intensive care, that is  2 more than yesterday.

And I regret to say that 6 additional deaths have been registered of people who first tested positive during the previous 28 days. The total number of deaths, under the measure used in these daily figures, is therefore now 2,544.

Today’s total – and indeed all of the deaths that have been recorded in recent days – reminds us, and should remind us, again that Covid is a virus that is deadly for some people, as well as being really dangerous for others.

This is not a virus that we can be complacent about or just allow to spread unchecked, however much we might wish it was and I think that is an important point in the context of everything else I will say today. But let me at this stage pass on my condolences to everybody who has lost a loved one to this illness.

Now, I have a couple of points I want to update on today. First of all, let me report that two more walk-in testing centres have opened this week.

A new centre opened in Old Kilpatrick in West Dunbartonshire yesterday, and a centre is opening for bookings in Stirling shortly.

We are continuing to work with the UK Government to increase the number of walk-in sites across the country, and several more – including centres in Dundee and Inverness – are due to open later this month.

These add to the five walk-in centres that are already in operation – two in Glasgow and one each in Edinburgh, Aberdeen and St Andrews. These five centres, that are already operational, are within walking distance of student campuses, and therefore will be especially useful for students. But I want to stress that all walk-in centres are open to all members of the public. You can book a test by going onto the NHS Inform website.

As always, please don’t use public transport to travel to any testing centre.

If you do not have a car - and can’t walk, or cycle to a testing centre - please book a home testing kit through NHS Inform.

And remember, because this is an absolutely crucial point for all of us to understand, that you must start to self-isolate from the time you start to experience symptoms of Covid – you must not wait until you get a test result before you start self-isolating. That is a really important point to make sure that we are doing everything we can to break the chains of transmission.

New regulations

My second theme today, as you would expect, relates to the new regulations which come into force later today and tomorrow.

The regulations applying to hospitality will take effect at 6pm this evening - those relating to other premises like snooker and bingo halls take effect tomorrow. They will all  be in force until Sunday 25th October - in other words, across two weeks and three weekends.

First – and with the exception of five central belt health board areas that I will come onto shortly where tighter restrictions will apply - pubs, bars, restaurants and cafes will only be able to operate indoors on a very restricted basis.

They can only open indoors from 6 am to 6 pm, for the service of food and non-alcoholic drinks.

They can however continue to serve alcohol outdoors up to the existing curfew time of 10 pm.

In addition, hotel restaurants will be able to serve residents indoors beyond 6 pm, but will not be able to serve alcohol.

In all cafes, restaurants and bars that will remain open, the existing rules on meetings will continue to apply – so that means no more than 6 people can meet, and they should come from no more than 2 households.

However there is an exemption to these rules – and this exemption applies in all parts of Scotland - for weddings that have already been booked and of course for funerals. The current rules for these will continue to apply.

As I indicated earlier this week, we are introducing stricter restrictions in five health board regions: Greater Glasgow and Clyde, Lanarkshire, Ayrshire and Arran, Lothian and Forth Valley.

I think you probably only need to look at today’s figures to get a sense of why we have taken that difficult decision. I mentioned that there are 440 new cases in Glasgow today, 306 in Lanarkshire, 192 in Lothian.

Numbers in Forth Valley and Ayrshire and Arran are lower - at 53 new cases in Forth Valley and 84 in Ayrshire and Arran – but they are still very high for the population of those areas.

And given that people live and work across all five areas, there can be a ripple effect between them, which is a further reason that tighter restrictions apply to all five of these health boards.

So in these areas, all licensed bars and restaurants will be required to close indoors and outdoors from 6pm this evening, though takeaways will be permitted. There is again an exception for hotels serving food and non-alcoholic drinks to residents.

Now I want to address a frustration about what I understand some see as a lack of clarity over the exemption for cafes - which are being allowed to stay open even in the central belt during the day as long as they don’t serve alcohol.

The reason for this café exemption is quite simple, it is to give people - particularly those who might be living alone and also working from home - somewhere they can still meet a friend for a coffee and a chat. And we judge that as important to help reduce the loneliness and isolation that comes with some of these restrictions that are in place right now.

But, and this is the other side of this balance, we are deliberately trying to reduce the volume of places that people come together so that we can stop the virus spreading, so we’ve got to draw any exemption really tightly.

That’s why we are not allowing premises like restaurants to decide to just stop serving alcohol, become cafes and therefore stay open - that would undermine the purpose of these restrictions.

But we did realise there was a potential anomaly for existing cafes that have an alcohol licence even though serving alcohol is very incidental to their business. What I announced the other day would have forced these cafes to close. In some areas - particularly rural areas - they might be the only cafe in a village.

So we decided to try to resolve this in a very targeted way. And in the 24 hours that we have been doing so, I readily accept that that has resulted in a lack of clarity.

But sometimes that’s the price we have to pay right now for trying to be as flexible as possible. It would have been easier and would have given much greater clarity just to stick to the position yesterday that cafes with a licence had to close.

But we decided to try to strike a different balance.

I can confirm that the Regulations being published today, I think they have just been published before the briefing started, have a definition of cafe which applies regardless of whether or not they have a licence. And that definition is -

“An establishment whose primary business activity, in the ordinary course of its business, is the sale of non alcoholic drinks, snacks or light meals.”

Now that is a definition based on what a cafe already does. It doesn’t allow a restaurant to now turn itself into a cafe.

I think business owners will know whether their establishment fits that definition or not. But any doubts or questions that any have should be discussed with local environmental health authorities.

I know how tough this is and I can’t tell you how sorry I am to be standing here in a position where we are requiring some businesses to close again. I am desperately sorry for that, and I know how desperately difficult this is for people trying to make a living, keep businesses they have worked to build up going and of course take care of their staff.

But government - all governments - are trying to strike right now almost impossible balances between lives and jobs. And speaking for the Scottish Government, we are trying to do that as best we can. As I’ve said all along we will not always get it perfectly right but we are trying our best to get through this as well as we can.

Let me turn now to the other central belt restrictions that will be in place for the next two weeks.

Snooker and pool halls, indoor bowling alleys, casinos and bingo halls will close in those areas for two weeks, from tomorrow.

Contact sports for people aged 18 and over will also be suspended - with an exception for professional sports.

Indoor group exercise activities will not be allowed, although the current rules will remain in place for under-18s, and gyms and pools can remain open for individual exercise.

And outdoor live events will not be permitted in these five areas for the next two weeks.

And in general, we are advising people who live in Greater Glasgow and Clyde, Lanarkshire, Ayrshire and Arran, Lothian and Forth Valley not to travel outside the health board area that they live in, if they do not need to. Similarly, people in other parts of Scotland should not travel to those areas if they do not need to.

That said, we are not imposing mandatory travel restrictions at this stage. And we are not asking people to cancel any half-term breaks that they might have. But we are asking people, if you don’t need to travel – don’t do it at this stage.

Finally, if you live in these five health board areas please limit public transport to essential purposes only, for example, going to school or to work, if you are not able to work from home.

Now, I know that businesses who are affected by these temporary restrictions rightly want to know details of the compensation package that we are developing to support them for the next two week period.

We intended to publish details on the allocation of our £40 million support fund this morning. But we are now expecting an announcement from the Chancellor later today on furlough which might have an impact on our proposals, I hope they will have a positive impact on our proposals - so we will publish details after we have clarity on that. I would call on the UK government to ensure that whatever it announces today on furlough applies in Scotland from tonight.

However, I do now want to outline the three strands of the additional Scottish Government package.

  1. Support for employment - this was intended to top up the existing furlough scheme. However, it is this aspect that might be impacted - we hope positively - by the Chancellor’s announcement later today.
  2. We will give a cash grant over and above any employment support for each business that is being required to close or reduce their operations. This is likely to be at the same level as the support provided in Aberdeen when we had the local lockdown there – and that was, depending on rateable value, grants of £1000 or £1500.
  3. We will make available a discretionary fund for local authorities to distribute to businesses that are in need of support but might not fall into the categories that I have already covered.

As I say, we will publish details of that once we have clarity of the first strand which we hope to get from the Chancellor later on.  The restrictions which are coming into force today are significant, there is no way in which I can suggest otherwise. But the case numbers we have seen in recent weeks – including, increasingly, the figures now for people being hospitalised – show why these restrictions are necessary.

We have to stop the virus from spreading further. And having already restricted meetings between households in each other’s homes, the most important additional step we can take is to restrict people meeting up in places like bars and restaurants.

These measures still allow for some social contact in cafes as I have already outlined. And they do not prevent people from taking the half term holidays that they had already  booked, or from going ahead with weddings which have already been planned. We have tried to minimize the impact on your lives as much as possible while still doing as much as we need to do to get this virus under control.

But for a period, and this is why for a period of just over two weeks, we will remove some of the major opportunities the virus has to spread. And we do believe this can have and will have a significant impact on transmission.

And so I know these steps are unwelcome – and believe me when I say they have been imposed with the greatest reluctance - I would urge all of you to stick with them. The only alternative to restrictions like this right now is a continuing surge in COVID, which would take more lives and probably in turn require even tighter restrictions in the weeks and months to come.

Now in addition to the temporary restrictions which come into place this weekend, and this is the point I will end on - I would urge everyone to continue to stick with the existing rules and guidance.

None of us should be visiting each other’s homes at the moment – except for specific purposes like childcare. That is a really tough restriction but it is perhaps the most important way we have of stopping this virus jumping from household to household.

When we do meet - outdoors, or in cafes – the maximum group size is 6, from a maximum of two households.

In addition, only car-share if it is essential.

Work from home if you can.

Download the Protect Scotland app, if you haven’t already done so.

And finally, please remember FACTS – FACTS comprises the basic rules that if we all follow take away the opportunities for the virus to spread. So:

  • Face coverings
  • Avoid crowded places.
  • Clean hands and hard surfaces
  • Two metres distance from people in other households.
  • and Self isolate, and get tested, if you have symptoms.

I know this is tough, I really do know this is tough and none of what the government is doing right now is being done lightly. I do not want to be standing here imposing restrictions that limit the freedoms we all love and take for granted but this is, as it was at the very start of this pandemic, about saving lives and keeping each other as safe and as well as we possibly can. We will get through this, it will pass, that much I do know, but I know it will pass easier and possibly more quickly if we pull together, stick together and look out for each other by doing all of these really important things. So my deep gratitude to all of you for that. Jason is now going to say a word of two before he and I turn to questions as usual.

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