Coronavirus (COVID-19): First Minister's statement - 29 October 2020

Statement given by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon before First Minister's Questions at the Scottish Parliament on Thursday 29 October 2020.

This document is part of 2 collections

Thank you Presiding Officer.

I will shortly confirm the different levels of protection to be applied across Scotland from Monday, and briefly explain some of the reasoning behind these decisions.

A detailed analysis paper is also being published which sets out our assessment of each of the five factors and our overall judgment, for each local authority area. 

First, though, I will give an update on today’s statistics.

The total number of positive cases reported yesterday was 1,128.

This is 7.1% of total tests, and takes the total number of cases to 61,531.

416 of the new cases were in Greater Glasgow and Clyde, 266 in Lanarkshire, 121 in Ayrshire and Arran and 117 in Lothian.

The remaining cases were spread across 9 other health board areas. Only Shetland had no new cases reported.

I can also confirm that 1,152 people are in hospital – that is an increase of 35 from yesterday.

86 people are in intensive care, that is 1 more than yesterday.

And I deeply regret to say that in the past 24 hours, a further 37 deaths have been registered of patients who first tested positive over the previous 28 days.

That means the total number of deaths, under that measurement, is now 2,791.

And again, I want to send my deepest condolences to all those who have lost a loved one to this illness.

These figures show that we are still seeing high numbers of new cases, increasing hospital and ICU admissions and, sadly, a rising number of deaths.

These issues are not unique to Scotland. We have, of course seen a resurgence in the virus in all parts of the UK, across Europe, and right around the world.

Just last night, for example, both France and Germany reimposed nationwide lockdowns.

In Scotland, we acted early - with some difficult but necessary measures - and we hope that this will have the effect of slowing the spread and preventing a further deterioration in our position.

And while we can’t be certain - and certainly have no grounds for complacency - we do see some encouraging signs that this might be the case.

Last week I indicated that we were beginning to see a significant slowing in the rate at which new cases are increasing and I can confirm today that this has continued. 

Cases in the past week, up to today, have increased by 4%.

2 weeks ago the weekly increase was 40%.

And our latest estimate of the R number, published today, suggests that it is still above 1, but may have fallen slightly to 1.3.

All of this suggests that the measures introduced 5 weeks ago to curb household meetings are having an effect.

And the additional measures introduced 3 weeks ago - to significantly restrict hospitality - may also be starting to have an impact.

All of that, of course, is down to the sacrifices of people the length and breadth of the country.

But, we must be under no illusions.

Europe is now firmly in the grip of a second wave of Covid.

Cases here, at home, are still rising, albeit the rate of growth appears to be slowing.

And the virus is still highly infectious, it will take every opportunity to spread.

So unless we act individually and collectively to protect and build on the progress we see today, it will quickly go into reverse.

Our strategic framework aims to tackle the virus with measures strong enough to work, but also proportionate to the scale of the problem in different parts of the country, and in a way that minimises as far as possible, the other harms that the pandemic is causing.

The assessment of what level of protection is right for each local authority is broadly based on 5 key factors – the number of positive cases per hundred thousand people over the most recent week; the percentage of positive tests; our forecast for new cases in the weeks ahead; and the capacity both of local hospitals and intensive care facilities.

These factors are assessed, alongside the views of local public health officials and with a consideration of local circumstance, such as specific outbreaks, travel and work patterns and the extent to which health services are provided by neighbouring health boards.

Our final decisions are based on all of these factors.

Before setting out our decisions I want to take a moment to remind people of the purpose of each level.

The baseline level zero and level 1 are intended to ensure as much normality as possible - but they do not remove all restrictions.

The protections in place at these levels should enable communities to control outbreaks quickly and effectively and minimise transmission of the virus by following the guidance and supporting each other to comply.

However, when we begin to see community transmission in an area, and when the spread of the virus can’t be linked to specific outbreaks, we need to apply the brakes, and that is essentially what levels 2 and 3 are designed to do.

Our aim is that these restrictions – especially in level 3 - are in place for as short a time as possible.

So if any area is at level 3, our aim collectively – between those who live there, the local authority, local health services and local businesses - must be to bring it down to level 2 and then level 1, not to allow it to drift to level 4, and we will use level 4 when transmission is extremely high and risking the capacity of the NHS to cope.

Let me turn now to the levels that will apply across the country from Monday at 0600.

Following this initial assessment, let me also point out, we will review on a weekly basis whether any changes are required. We aim to confirm our decisions to parliament on a Tuesday, with the changes coming into force on the following Friday.

Barring the need for any changes before then, our next update will therefore be Tuesday 10 November, with any changes coming into effect on 13 November.

Before turning to today’s decision, let me remind everyone that you can see on the Scottish Government website the reasoning behind these decisions, what level your own area is in and what restrictions that entails for the area you live in.

Given the fragile situation we face - and the fact that we are migrating to this new system for the first time - we are taking a deliberately cautious approach today.

At present, we do not judge it safe or prudent to place any part of the country into the baseline level zero.

However, if we see continued progress, I hope that might change, I hope that will change, in the weeks ahead.

However, I can confirm that Highland, Moray, the Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland have all been assessed as level 1.

In time - hopefully a short time - we expect level 1 to allow people to meet in each other’s homes, in groups of up to 6 people, from a maximum of 2 households.

However at present, on clear public health advice, the restriction on household meetings will continue to apply in all parts of the country for now.

I am conscious that in our more rural and island communities that restriction can cause particular difficulty - so we will review the necessity of it in level 1 areas, ahead of the 10 November review.  If the virus remains controlled in these areas, I am hopeful that we will be able to lift it then.

Let me now address those areas that have been assessed as level 2.  They are Aberdeenshire, Aberdeen, Fife, the Borders, Dumfries and Galloway, Argyll & Bute and also – as I’ll come on to discuss in more detail at the moment – Perth & Kinross and Angus. 

In two of these cases – the Borders and Argyll & Bute - the decision on whether they should be assessed as level 1 or level 2 was finely balanced.

In both cases one of the key factors in reaching our decision was the interconnection with neighbouring areas – particularly with health services in Lothian and Greater Glasgow and Clyde. 

We have also considered the impact of travel from nearby areas with higher prevalence of Covid.  As a result we have decided to take a cautious approach by applying Level 2 to both areas. We will however consider this decision very carefully at the next review point. 

The interconnection with neighbouring areas and services has also heavily influenced our decision on Inverclyde. 

I understand why it would wish to be assessed as level 2.

However, we do not consider it safe to take that decision yet given the very close connections between Inverclyde and other parts of west central Scotland with high transmission rates, high positivity levels and significant pressure already on hospital and ICU capacity.

Inverclyde has therefore been assessed as level 3 along with:

  • East and West Dunbartonshire, Renfrewshire and East Renfrewshire, and the City of Glasgow;
  • South Ayrshire, East Ayrshire and North Ayrshire;
  • Stirling, Falkirk and Clackmannanshire;
  • The City of Edinburgh, Midlothian, West Lothian and East Lothian.

We know that these areas in level 3 have been under restrictions now for a number of weeks, particularly on household interaction. Based on the data we are considering, if progress in suppressing the virus is maintained, we would hope that at a very early review point, we will be able to consider moving some areas, I think East Lothian in particular and possibly Edinburgh, from level 3 to level 2, reasonably soon.

I cannot make that commitment now, but I hope we will be able to confirm it in the coming weeks.


Our approach to managing Covid will work best, when there is real partnership working between neighbouring authorities and health boards - on how to drive down levels of infection, share resources, and communicate with and support communities.

I indicated earlier this week that we had cause for concern in relation to Dundee and that we expected it to move into level 3.

Dundee is currently seeing, per week, around 185 new cases per hundred thousand of the population.

That is higher than for several of the areas already in the equivalent of level 3.

We have therefore decided that a Level 3 assessment for Dundee is the correct one, and so from Monday at 0600 Dundee will move into Level 3. 

Support is available for businesses which will be required to close, and all businesses across Scotland will have access to the replacement job support scheme from the UK Government which begins on Monday. 

I would encourage all businesses in Dundee who are impacted by closure, and those in the supply chain, to engage with the City Council and also to look at the website to find out what help is available. In fact businesses across the country can access that resource.

In making this decision, we considered very carefully whether Perth & Kinross and Angus should also be placed in level 3, given travel patterns and interdependencies between these 3 authorities.

Our decision not to do so at this stage is based on the view of the 3 authorities, NHS Tayside and the police that close partnership working can mitigate against cross border transmission.

People living in Angus and Perth & Kinross have a big part to play though.

It will be essential for them to adhere strictly to the guidance and the restrictions, especially on travel, if a rise in cases that would necessitate level 3 restrictions being applied across all of Tayside is to be avoided.

Presiding Officer, let me turn now to the situation in Lanarkshire.

The decision between level 3 and level 4 there has been very finely balanced.

Lanarkshire has a high number of cases and a high test positivity and a high number of patients in hospital and ICU.

However, there is evidence in recent days that the situation is stabilising. That is undoubtedly down to the compliance and sacrifices of local people.

And the local councils, NHS Lanarkshire and the police believe they have strong partnership plans in place to maintain that progress under current restrictions.

For these reasons - and given the severity of level 4 restrictions - we have decided that North and South Lanarkshire should remain in level 3 at present. 

However, I want to be very clear that this has been a borderline decision and it is one that we require to keep under review - not just weekly, but on a daily basis.

I would appeal, therefore, to people across Lanarkshire to continue to play your part. Please abide strictly with all the rules and guidance, to help ensure that the rise in cases continues to slow and that more severe restrictions can be avoided.

Presiding Officer, let me turn, finally, to travel. And here I need to be very blunt.

I know travel restrictions are unwelcome and can be controversial, but they are an absolutely essential part of any regional approach to tackling Covid. They are - unfortunately - a price we pay for more targeted restrictions.

If people don’t abide by the travel advice, the virus will spread from high to lower prevalence areas, and a differentiated approach will become unsustainable. In these circumstances, we would have to return to national restrictions.

So let me be clear what we are asking of people at this stage.

If you live in a level 3 council area or in future a level 4 area, please do not travel outside the council area you live in - unless you require to do so for essential reasons. 

And if you live in a level 1 or 2 local authority area, you must not travel into a level 3 or level 4 area except for essential purposes.

By essential purposes we mean things like work – if you cannot work from home – education, local outdoor exercise, healthcare or caring responsibilities, and essential shopping where that is not possible locally.

In recent weeks that guidance has applied to health board areas. But from Monday, it will apply at local authority level.

Similarly people – wherever they live – should not travel between Scotland and areas in the rest of the UK with high levels of the virus unless it is essential.

Given that the police can’t check everyone’s journey, this has to rely on public willingness to adhere. That’s why the advice is in guidance at this stage and not regulation, but we will keep that under review.

But I appeal to people across the country - please comply with this advice, to keep everyone safe and allow us to continue, if possible, with a proportionate response across different parts of the country to wider restrictions.

Presiding Officer, the levels we will put in place from Monday, require more sacrifice, at a time when all of us are tired of making these sacrifices. I recognise that and again  thank everyone across Scotland for everything they are doing.

But these sacrifices continue to be essential.

If we all dig in and stick with it, this proportionate approach has a real chance of being sustainable and keeping Covid under control over the winter.

If we succeed, we open the prospect – in all parts of the country – of being able to lead slightly less restricted lives in the future, hopefully in the reasonably near future.

However, the other side of this is equally true, and I must be open with Parliament and with the country about it.

We are, as of now, making progress in Scotland. But cases are still rising and the situation we face is fragile. Across Europe the pandemic is accelerating.

So I cannot rule out a move back to nationwide restrictions in the next few weeks, including at level 4.

That could happen if, for example, cases in parts of the county start to rise faster again, to the extent that controlling spread with travel restrictions will not be effective.

Or it could happen if pressure on the NHS risks breaching capacity - not just at a local level - but overall.

We want to avoid this, obviously.

But to achieve that, we must all play our part.

The Government must and will lead.

But all of us have individual agency - and all of us have individual responsibility.

None of us can guarantee we will not get or transmit the virus – but we can all make choices that keep ourselves, our loved ones and our communities safer.

So please, make sure you know the restrictions in your local area - from Monday, a postcode checker will help you do that - and please stick to these restrictions.

Wherever you live, for now, do not visit other people’s houses.

And don’t travel to or from level 3 areas.

And please remember to –

  • Wear face coverings
  • Avoid places with crowds of people
  • Clean your hands and surfaces
  • Keep 2 metres distance from people in other households
  • And self isolate and get tested immediately if you have Covid symptoms.

If we do these things, we have a chance of keeping the virus under control in our neighbourhoods, and our communities.

We can reduce overall case levels in our areas and help to do so across the country.

And then we can all play a part in moving all parts of the country to lower levels of restrictions.

And above all Presiding Officer, we can protect each other, protect our National Health Service, and save lives.

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