Coronavirus (COVID-19) update: First Minister’s statement 3 November 2020

Statement given by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at a media briefing in St Andrew's House on Tuesday 3 November 2020.

Thanks for joining us again today.

I will start with the update on today’s statistics as usual.

The total number of positive cases reported yesterday was 999.

That is 10.3% of the total number of tests that were carried out, and takes the total number of confirmed cases now to 67,011.

378 of the new cases were in Greater Glasgow and Clyde, 207 in Lanarkshire, 128 in Lothian and 107 in Ayrshire and Arran.

The remaining cases were spread across 8 other health board areas.

I can also confirm that 1254 people are currently in hospital – which is an increase of 29 from yesterday.

And 92 people are in intensive care, that is one fewer than yesterday.

And finally, I regret to say that a further 28 deaths have been registered in the past 24 hours of patients who first tested positive over the previous 28 days.

That means that the total number of deaths, under the daily measurement, is now 2,877.

That obviously reminds us again of the heartbreak that this virus continues to cause to families the length and breadth of the country and again I convey my condolences to everyone who is in that position, and who is mourning a loved one.

I am joined today by Shirley-Anne Somerville, the Social Security Secretary and also by the Chief Medical Officer.

Shirley-Anne will talk about the Scottish Child Payment. Applications for the payment will open soon and we are encouraging all eligible families to apply.

This will be a valuable source of additional support for all eligible families – but that includes many who are struggling right now as a direct result of the pandemic which is why it is appropriate to draw attention to that.

I also want to highlight that later today the Health Secretary will give a statement to parliament, where she will set out details of our plans for adult social care over the winter, which is obviously extremely important.

In my remarks today, though, I want to return briefly to an issue that I covered yesterday – the availability of money from the UK furlough scheme -  since there have been some seemingly significant developments since I stood here last, yesterday.

In particular, the Prime Minister appears to have agreed yesterday that access to the furlough scheme at the higher level of 80% of wages will be available to Scotland after 2 December, if that is required.

I welcome that commitment, although I do so with, I suppose, a  necessary degree of caution - we have not yet seen any detail of what that commitment means when translated into hard practice.

And in particular we have not yet had confirmation from the Treasury that continuation of furlough in Scotland beyond 2 December would be at the 80% level.

We have always known there would be some form of furlough scheme continuing after 2 December, that has never been the point at issue. The point is at what level, and we await confirmation that it would be on the same basis, eligibility and the 80% level that will apply throughout November.

Obviously there has already been some doubt cast over the Prime Minister’s comment by another member of the Cabinet in a television interview this morning.

But notwithstanding that, we still hope that the Prime Minister’s commitment will hold and that furlough payments will be available after the 2nd of December, on the same terms as they are being made available in November.

But obviously we cannot be certain about that until we have seen the commitment translated into certainty by the Treasury and we are pressing urgently for that clarity.

This issue of furlough payments is important, very important, for reasons that I spoke about yesterday. First and foremost it is important for the sake of people across the country who are worried about their jobs and wages.

But it is also important for the Scottish Government's, and indeed the Welsh and Northern Ireland governments, ability to plan and steer the best course through the pandemic.

With vitally important decisions having to be made, by all governments, day after day just now, it is not helpful for any of us to be distracted by a lack of clarity from the Treasury.

And it is obviously far from ideal, as I tried to set out yesterday, if vital public health decisions for Scotland or Wales or Northern Ireland have to be in any way distorted by the need to access financial support that only takes account of the situation in England.

Instead, what we want to do and are determined to do, is continue to follow the careful, cautious, public health driven approach that we have taken so far in Scotland - not least because it has put us, relatively speaking, with no shred of complacency, in a strong position.

We face difficult judgments for the future, and as I say we have no room for complacency  - and I’ll return to that point in a moment - but as of now, prevalence of Covid is lower than in other parts of the UK.

That is, we believe, partly down to the plan we have been following and obviously it is very much down to the sacrifices people all over the country have been making.

So we want to continue to base our decisions on the best evidence that we have and that’s what we intend to do.

We will be closely monitoring progress this week, ahead of our scheduled review of the allocation of levels next Tuesday.

The fact that we acted quickly to control the pandemic in September and October means that we are now, we think, seeing some encouraging signs in the figures for new cases.

The last few weeks appear to show the rate of increase in cases slowing down - and that is good and positive. And as I said a moment ago it is down to the sacrifices all of you have been making.

But as we know day to day figures will reflect - in part - the fluctuating demand for testing.

And case numbers – and crucially the test positivity rate, you will see that from the figures I have given today - remain high.

So we cannot be complacent, in way, shape, or form.

The situation that we face, in common with countries the world over, is a fragile one, and we must proceed with great care and caution.

So we will assessing throughout this week whether we might be starting to see a sustained improvement, leading to a fall in the number of new cases, which is what we are hoping for, or on the other hand, whether case numbers are instead reaching something of a plateau.

That’s important and I want to take a little time today just to explain it more fully why that is important - and I will do that with reference to our experience over the summer and so far.

The fact is we can’t really take any comfort in a situation where case numbers are continuing to rise, even if they are rising at a slower rate now than was the case a few weeks ago. And we certainly can’t take comfort in a situation where case numbers simply plateau, where they stay steady but at their current high levels of around 1000 a day.

And let me explain that with reference to our experience over the summer.

One reason why we might be, we think in a slightly better position than, say, England is just now - in addition to the those early steps we took from late September to impose restrictions - is that we did reduce cases to a very low level over the summer.

And what that means is that even when the R number started to rise above 1 again, that increase was from a much lower baseline. Had we come out of the summer with higher prevalence than we did, we would probably be in a much more severe situation right now.

So that baseline point matters, and it matters just as much,  in fact possibly more so, now as we head deeper into the winter period.

A high level of cases - even if they were quite steady or growing only slowly - would not be a stable position.

It would mean that if the R number was to rise at all during the winter, which with more people inside is quite likely, it would start to drive increased transmission from a high baseline.

And that risks the situation, very quickly potentially, running out of control.

And that would mean more deaths, and a possible overwhelming of our NHS.

So the point I need to stress is this, and it’s a really important point and I am stressing it to try to develop the understanding we all have of the factors we have to weigh up over the next period.

The point is this one: we need to be confident not just that the situation we face right now isn’t deteriorating, we also need to be confident that at current levels of intervention, the situation is improving significantly enough.

If we are not confident of that, it may be that we can’t move areas down a level.

And it may also be that we have to move some areas up a level. And while we hope this will not be the case, that analysis also means we cannot rule out having to move some areas of the country to level 4 for a period.

Now we haven’t reached those decisions yet, that is a judgement we will be considering as we assess the data in the days ahead. I am always aware that when I talk like this, it can fuel media speculation about what is going to happen. That is understandable, it’s the media’s job after all to try to work out and report what might lie ahead. So that is in no way a criticism.

But the view I have taken throughout this pandemic is that it’s better for me to be open and at times discursive about the factors driving our decisions - so that you understand not just what we are asking you to do, but why we are asking you do it. So I will continue to try to keep you informed of our thinking and of the factors that we are taking account of as we head towards this first review point of our new level system which is due next Tuesday.

But, and let me conclude on this point, because it is an equally important one, in the meantime, all of us have a vital part to play in trying to ensure that the situation does improve and we don’t need to impose more severe restrictions.

I want always everybody to remember, that none of us our powerless in the face of this.

The best thing that all of us can do, and we all can do it, to reduce the likelihood of further restrictions, is to abide by the rules now, and try to limit, as much as we reasonably can, the contact we are having with people in other households.

And abide by the spirit of the rules, as I said yesterday, please don’t look for the loopholes, don’t try to put your own twist or interpretation of the rules.  If this is to continue to work, as we believe it is although we are not yet sure it is working far enough and fast enough, then  it takes all of us abiding by these rules to the letter, and in the spirit of them.

So let me finish now by recapping on what we are asking people to do.

If you are living in one of the areas at level three – most parts of the central belt, and now also Dundee - you should not travel outside your own local authority area unless it is essential, by essential we mean for work that can’t be done at home, or caring responsibilities.

And people in other parts of Scotland please do not travel into level three areas except for the same essential purposes.

We are also, and this is important, we are also asking people right now not to travel outside of Scotland, not to other parts of the UK - England, Wales, Northern Ireland - and not to travel overseas, again unless there is an essential purpose for doing so.

Abiding by travel restrictions is essential, within Scotland it is essential to avoid us taking the virus from high prevalence areas to low prevalence areas, so that those low prevalence areas don’t stay low prevalence areas and of course more widely it is important for all countries, as they try to suppress the virus within their own borders, to minimize the chances of importing it from other countries.

In addition none of us, anywhere in the country right now, should be visiting each other’s homes - again except for very specific purposes, such as childcare, or if you have to look after an older or vulnerable person, or if you are part of an extended household.

It is a really, really tough restriction, and I speak from experience when I say it gets tougher with every day that passes not to see close family members. But we know that limiting contact with people outside our own households, inside our own homes, is one of the most effective things we can do to reduce transmission of the virus.

When we are meeting people from other households - outdoors, which you are permitted to do, or in indoor public places – remember the limits, you should not meet more than six people, from a maximum of two households, again, to limit the chances of the virus spreading from one household to another.

Avoid car-sharing if you can.

Work from home if you can.

Remember to download the Protect Scotland app, if you are able to have it.

And finally, the five key rules that help keep us all safe, reduce the risk of us getting the virus and crucially reduce the risk, if we have the virus, of passing it on to other people:

  • remember face coverings
  • remember to avoid places with crowds of people
  • clean your hands regularly and thoroughly and clean hard surfaces that you might be touching or other people might have touched before you
  • keep two metres distance from people from other households if you are coming into contact with them
  • and lastly self-isolate, and get tested immediately, if you have any of the symptoms of COVID.

These rules do help us protect ourselves, they undoubtedly help us protect our loved ones and those around about us, but they are also help wider communities. And they definitely protect our NHS, and ultimately they help to save lives.

So let me just conclude with a summary couple of sentences here.

We are right now in a difficult position in Scotland, but it is not without its encouraging signs.

We have to satisfy ourselves though, that those signs are encouraging enough and going firmly enough in the right direction. So there are some difficult judgements that lie ahead of us, and that will continue to be the case week on week as we go through winter.  But all of us have a part to play here.

The reason we have these encouraging signs right now is because we acted quickly and all of you have abided by what we have asked you to do. If we keep that up, then we can be cautiously optimistic that we can continue to see progress through what undoubtedly will be a tough winter, but one we have to get through, and get through together.

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