Coronavirus (COVID-19) update: Health Secretary’s speech 31 May 2020

Statement given by Health Secretary Jeane Freeman at a media briefing in St Andrew's House, Edinburgh


Good afternoon. Thank you for joining us for today’s briefing.

I want to start this afternoon by updating you on some of the key statistics in relation to Covid-19 in Scotland.

As at 9 o’clock this morning, there have been 15,400 positive cases confirmed - an increase of 18 from yesterday.

A total of 1,073 patients are in hospital with Covid-19 – 732 who have been confirmed as having Covid, and 341 who are suspected of having Covid. That represents a total reduction of 41 since yesterday, including a decrease of 3 in the number of confirmed cases.

A total of 27 people last night were in intensive care with confirmed or suspected Covid 19. That is a decrease of 6 since yesterday.

I am also able to confirm today that since 5 March, a total of 3,688 patients who had tested positive for the virus have been able to leave hospital. I wish all of them well.

Unfortunately I also have to report that in the last 24 hours, 9 deaths have been registered of patients who have been confirmed through a test as having Covid-19 – that takes the total number of deaths in Scotland, under that measurement, to 2,362. 

It is worth remembering that fewer deaths tend to be registered at the weekend than on other days of the week, and that is probably why today’s figure is relatively low.

And, as always, I want to stress that these numbers are not simply statistics. They represent individuals whose loss is a source of grief to very many. I want to send my deepest condolences to everyone who has lost a loved one to this virus.

As Health Secretary, I also want to once again thank those working in our health and care sectors.  That thanks is due to all staff – to people working in NHS 24; in emergency dental and eye care;  in GP practices and Covid assessment centres; in care homes and in hospitals; to paramedics; procurement staff, and the porters, cooks, cleaners, and maintenance staff who help to keep our services running.

Your work is essential to the health and well being of us all, and all of us are grateful to you.

I have two issues I want to address briefly before focusing on the next steps for our NHS.

The first relates to the changes to lockdown restrictions which took effect on Friday.

I know that this weekend there will have been many long-awaited meetings taking place in the sunshine. I know they will have brought real joy to many. But I cannot emphasise enough, how much we need you to stick to the rules we have set out.

The central advice continues to be to stay at home. That is the best way of stopping the spread of the virus.

I know that is hard in the sunshine, but it is essential.  The reasons you can leave your house are exceptions.  They are not the norm.

If you are meeting people outside there should be no more than two households in any group – and ideally no more than 8 people.  Each household should socially distance from the other – and also, of course, from any other groups that are in the same place as you.

And we strongly recommend that you do not meet with any other household more than once in a day. 

Remember also that every person you meet, could pass the virus to you, or you could pass the virus to them, even if you feel well.

So remember the basic precautions you should take – wash your hands; cough or sneeze into your elbow or into a disposable tissue; and try to avoid touching your face. Don’t touch shared surfaces such as park benches or play parks. And if you can, wear a face covering in shops and on public transport.

Please do not travel more than 5 miles from your home. And do not crowd beauty spots, rural locations or small villages.  Car parks in many of these locations remain closed, They are closed for a reason, to stop crowding. So please don’t ignore that, don’t park on verges or at the side of the road as an alternative. That is unsafe. If it’s crowded, change your plans and go elsewhere.

And please - don’t go indoors. Being in someone else’s house must still be avoided, unless you are providing support to someone who is vulnerable.

Fundamentally, life may feel a little less restricted but it should not feel normal. 

I know these restrictions remain tough, but they are necessary.

The changes we have made are intended to improve people’s quality of life, while continuing to minimise opportunities for the virus.  If we don’t respect these rules then the virus will begin to spread again.

I know that the majority of people are following the rules and the law. But we have heard and seen some reports this weekend of more than two households meeting, of house parties taking place, and of large gatherings outdoors. None of that should be happening. It puts you and others at risk. 

So enjoy meeting friends and loved ones, but please do it sensibly.  Think about your actions. And remember that for all of us, our individual decisions are crucial not first to our own safety and that of our loved ones, but to each other.

The second issue I want to talk about is shielding.

I  know that the last three months have been enormously difficult for people who are shielding, and for their families.

I  also know that it is tough for you to see restrictions being eased on those who are less at risk - and that you want clarity about when you can start to lead a less restricted life.

We will provide you with more information over the course of the next couple of weeks, but I want to stress that the changes the UK Government announced yesterday are for England only. They do not apply in Scotland.

We have asked you to shield because the virus presents a very serious risk to you. You matter. And so we need to very careful to get our advice right for you as we move through how we can safely ease the restrictions you face and what you can do to keep safe.

In doing so, we will try, as far as we can, to move from the current blanket approach – which requires all of you to stay at home all the time - to one that reflects both the latest clinical evidence, and your individual circumstances.

The final issue I want to talk about today relates to NHS Scotland. The Scottish Government has today published “A Framework for NHS Mobilisation”. It sets out the core principles that underpin how we will, safely and gradually, resume some of the services in the community and hospital setting which were paused at the onset of the Covid-19 crisis.

The mobilisation plan makes clear that we will start with the resumption of those services whose absence is clearly having a detrimental impact on people’s lives. 

But as we do that we must make sure we keep sufficient capacity, to deal with any surge in Covid-19 cases. And we will build on some of the improvements that have been made as a result of responding to Covid - particularly in primary care - through increased use of digital consultations.

Mental health support – something which is arguably more important now than ever – will be made more widely available.

The care offered at emergency dental hubs will expand, as dentists prepare to open.

In hospitals, we will restart some urgent elective surgery which had been postponed.

As we emerge further from lockdown, more services will resume – including, for example, cancer screening services, and services for managing chronic diseases.

And although it may seem like a strange thing to say on one of the hottest days of the year, we are already looking ahead to the winter months - to the normal flu season, as well as to the continued risk of Covid-19. So our planning must take that into account and use the next few months to restock and replenish supplies. 

The plan sets out an approach which is cautious, phased, and based on evidence. It is informed by our experience in recent weeks. The re-mobilisation will happen in stages, with constant checking on the prevalence of the virus and the R-number. The plan charts the way we will help the health service to resume important services, alongside making sure that the virus continues to be suppressed.

And as those decisions are made in that slow, evidence-based way we will make sure that patients are well aware of what to expect and that you, the wider public in Scotland, know what we are doing and the reasons for it.

I am just about to hand over to the Chief Nursing Officer and the National Clinical Director. Before I do that, however, I would like to re-state once again our key public health guidance.

Lockdown has been modified slightly – but life should not feel normal. You should still stay home as much as possible because the virus has not gone away.

Don’t meet with more than one other household at a time, don’t meet more than one a day and keep to a maximum of 8 people in a group.

Stay 2 metres apart when you do meet.

Wash your hands regularly and thoroughly.

Avoid hard surfaces - and clean any you are touching.

And if you have symptoms, don’t wait to see if you feel better tomorrow, get tested and follow the advice on self isolation.

We are only taking steps out of lockdown this weekend, because so many people have stuck to the rules so far.

If all of us continue to do the right thing, we will be able to relax more restrictions in the future. But right now these rules remain the best way of protecting ourselves, our loved ones, and our communities. So please, stick with them.

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