Coronavirus (COVID-19) update: Health Secretary's speech - Friday 18 December 2020

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

Thanks for joining us again today.

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

The total number of positive cases reported yesterday was 744.

That represents 4.2% of the total number of tests, and takes the total number of confirmed cases in Scotland to 110,040.

172 of today’s new cases were in Greater Glasgow and Clyde, 158 in Lothian, and 94 in Grampian.

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

I can also confirm that 1,032 people are currently in hospital – that is an increase of 20 from yesterday.

50 people are in intensive care, which is the same as yesterday .

And sadly 36 additional deaths have been registered in the last 24 hours, of a patient who first tested positive over the previous 28 days.

That takes the total number of deaths, under that daily measurement to 4,239.

Each one of those deaths has been a source of heartbreak.

And so once again, I send my condolences to all those who have lost a loved one to this terrible virus.

I’m joined today by our National Clinical Director Professor Jason Leitch.  Jason will be helping me to answer the journalists’ questions.

Before that, there are a few issues I want to update you on.

The first concerns international travel.

The Scottish Government last night announced the latest changes to the list of countries which are exempt from Scotland’s quarantine requirements. 

We have decided to remove three places from the list.  Those places are Namibia, Uruguay and US Virgin Islands.

It means that from 4am tomorrow, people travelling to Scotland from these locations must self-isolate for 10 days, upon their return.

These changes represent the last formal review of the exemption list, this year.  The next review will take place in the week commencing 4 January.

In the meantime, the UK Joint Biosecurity Centre will continue to monitor the relevant data.  We will of course take action – before the next review date – should that be required.

And of course, the Scottish Government’s general advice remains the same.  You should avoid any unnecessary overseas travel, right now.

My second update for relates to an important measure that we put in place, at the start of the pandemic, in March.

At that time, we took steps to suspend car parking charges at three hospitals – the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, the Glasgow Royal Infirmary and Ninewells Hospital in Dundee.

At all three of these hospitals the car parks are privately owned as a consequence of  PFI funding and so they were the only hospitals in Scotland where car parking charges still applied.

Today, I can confirm that we have reached a further agreement with the private operators of these car parks.  As a result, the suspension of parking charges will be extended at all three hospitals – until March 2021.

Continued free parking is obviously good news for patients and visitors at these hospitals.  But I know it will also make a huge difference, to hospital staff. 

Our NHS workers have done an extraordinary job for all of us, throughout this pandemic and they still do. So it’s only right that we make life a little easier for them, as they carry out that vital work.  

The third issue I want to update you on today, is the expansion of our testing capacity.

This week saw the opening of two additional walk-through testing centres.

One of those opened in Kilmarnock, on Wednesday.  And the other opened yesterday, in Oban.

These two new centres add to the 20 others that we’ve established, across the country.  And mean that we’ve now met our target – of having 22 walk-through centres in place, for the winter period.

I want express my sincere thanks to everyone who has helped to make that possible and to thank all those who are helping to operate the different sites.

All of the centres are open to all members of the public. And you can book a test by going onto the NHS Inform website.

You can do that if you are in a profession which has agreed access to testing. And of course you should book a test immediately if you have COVID symptoms, or if you are advised to do so by Test and Protect.

The walk-through centres help to make testing as accessible as possible, to as many people as possible. So we will continue to work with the UK Government – and our local partners - to deliver more of them, over the coming weeks. 

Of course, as we expand the accessibility of testing, we are also extending NHS Scotland’s laboratory processing capacity for tests.

On Tuesday, the first of three new NHS Scotland regional hubs for processing tests opened at Gartnavel in Glasgow.  The second hub opens today, at Foresterhill in Aberdeen.

They will increase Scotland’s testing capacity – from around 12,000 tests a day, to almost 30,000 tests a day – by the end of this month.

And when fully completed  with the regional hub to be established in the east and opened in January that will take our total daily testing capacity – including our share of the UK wide Lighthouse programme – to 65,000 tests a day.

The final point I want to make is about Christmas – which is now just a week away.

I know that many of you will be finalizing your plans.  So I want to quickly remind you of some of the key elements of the Scottish Government’s advice.

Essentially, the five-day period over Christmas – from 23 to 27 December – is a limited window of flexibility.  It is not a period of time when we think it’s safe for people to meet.

So let me emphasise, that any interaction you do have with another household should, if at all possible, be outdoors.

If you do consider it essential to meet indoors, it’s better to limit gatherings to 2 households a maximum of 8 people.

And the numbers of people gathering should be as small as possible.

In addition, please limit the length of time you spend with people. We recommend only meeting other people in your bubble on one day over the Christmas period, rather than on 5 days.

Avoid overnight stays if you possibly can.

And take precautions such as opening a window for ventilation, keeping your distance washing your hands regularly, and not eating from the same dishes or sharing the same serving spoons or crockery.

Finally, avoid travelling if possible, and do not travel to or from tier 3 areas in England –  which have the highest prevalence of the virus.

All of these points are set out in our Christmas guidance.  However, the central point I want to emphasise is this. Staying within your own household and in your own home is the safest way to spend Christmas.

The vaccination programme helps us see that along with all the other measures an end to this pandemic is now in sight.  But until then, all of us should be doing all we can, to keep each other safe.

That means following the Christmas guidance, over the 5 day period next week.  But it also means sticking to the current rules and guidelines.   

So to close today, I want to remind all of us what those are.   Remember, if you are in any doubt about the rules in your local authority, you can find out using the postcode checker on the Scottish Government’s website.

But, if you live in a level 3 area – from today that includes East Lothian Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire – you must not travel outside your own local authority area unless for an essential reason.

And people living elsewhere in Scotland must not travel to level 3 area – except for essential purposes. 

There must be no non-essential travel between Scotland and other parts of the UK.

None of us - outside of some island communities - should be visiting each other’s homes, except for very specific purposes such as caring responsibilities.

If we do meet people from other households – either outdoors or in public indoor places– the limit is six people, from a maximum of two households.

Avoid car-sharing if you can.

Work from home if you can.

And download the Protect Scotland app, if you are able to.

I know all of this is difficult and it is not any easier with each day that passes. But we all know and you certainly do just how important it is.

And finally, remember FACTS - the five key rules that we can all use, to reduce our chance of getting the virus, or of passing it on:

  • face coverings
  • avoid crowded places
  • clean your hands and clean hard surfaces
  • keep two metres distance from people from other households
  • and self-isolate, and get tested immediately, if you have any of the symptoms of COVID.

These rules are a further way in which we protect ourselves, our loved ones and our communities. And we can also safeguard our NHS and our health and care staff. And most of all they help us save lives.

So thank you once again to everyone who is doing that. It really is appreciated and it really does matter.

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