Coronavirus (COVID-19) update: First Minister's speech 6 April 2020

Statement given by the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at a media briefing in St Andrew's House, Edinburgh on Monday 6 April.

Good afternoon. I have to start with the very sad news that we have received confirmation, in the last 24 hours, that a home care worker in West Dunbartonshire has died. I want to take the opportunity to convey my thoughts and condolences to their loved ones.  

Their death is a reminder that the people working in our health and care services aren’t simply showing immense dedication and expertise – although they are – they are also displaying great courage. I am sure everyone in Scotland, once again, is reflecting on the considerable debt we owe to them.

I also want to say a brief word about Boris Johnson. One of the things about the Covid-19 virus of course is that it does not discriminate – it can potentially affect anyone and everyone. The fact that the Prime Minister is undergoing tests is a further reminder of that. I want to take the opportunity on behalf of the Scottish Government and I’m sure all the people of Scotland to wish him all the best. I hope that he makes a speedy recovery.

And I want to take a moment to introduce Dr Gregor Smith, who joins me today. Gregor is a GP and a former medical director for primary care in North Lanarkshire. He has been deputy Chief Medical Officer for the last five years and has been closely involved in the government’s work on Coronavirus.

Following Catherine Calderwood’s resignation last night, Gregor has agreed to act as interim Chief Medical Officer, for the foreseeable future.

This has been a difficult last 24 hours for the government, but I am acutely aware that it is as nothing compared to the difficulties faced by those who contract Covid-19, or whose loved ones get it - or the health and care staff we are calling on to treat them. Supporting and helping them will always be our chief priority.   And that has my and the Government’s total focus.

As usual, I can update you on some of the key statistics in relation to the progress of Covid 19 in Scotland.

First, I can confirm that, as at 9 o’clock this morning, there have been 3,961 positive cases confirmed - an increase of 255 from yesterday’s figures.

As always, let me be clear that these numbers will be an underestimate.

A total of 199 people last night were in intensive care with confirmed or suspected cases of Covid 19. That is an increase of two on yesterday. A total of 1599 patients are in hospital with Covid-19 - that is an increase of nine from yesterday.

And in the last 24 hours there have been two reported deaths of covid-19 – that takes the total number of deaths in Scotland to 222. Once again, however, that figure will not give a true account of what has happened across Scotland.

As I explained yesterday, our new system for reporting Covid-19 deaths uses information validated by the National Registers of Scotland.

Work is underway this to move the NRS system to a seven day a week operation.

As a result, the figure I am reporting today – like the figure I reported yesterday - will be artificially low – though of course, each death matters and is a source of sadness to family and friends and also to us.

These figures will be reconciled tomorrow and on Wednesday. On Wednesday the National Registers of Scotland will publish a report on deaths in the community as a result of Covid-19.

We expect that these figures will confirm the trend– that we have seen over the last ten days or so of a rapid increase in the number of Covid-19 cases in Scotland, and sadly the number of deaths. There is almost certainly worse still to come before we turn the corner of this virus.

And so I want to summarise some of the key steps we are taking to prepare health and care services, and to protect our health and care workers.

Two weeks ago, we established a nationwide network of Community Hubs and Assessment Centres to triage and treat individuals with worsening COVID-19 symptoms. We also asked people to no longer contact their GP with COVID-19 related concerns.

It’s maybe worth stressing that for most people, the NHS Inform website should be the first place you go for advice on Covid-19. However if you need to – for example if your symptoms worsen - you should call the NHS 111 number.

For non-COVID-19 related medical advice, contact your GP practice. If your GP practice is closed, and your medical issue cannot wait till it re-opens, you can contact NHS 111.

On the first day that we introduced our new system, NHS 24 received almost 12,000 calls to its 111 number. That figure has been slowly decreasing – we got just over 4,000 calls on Friday – although there are still peaks, for example at weekends.

On the figures we have available –approximately 5% of telephone enquiries result in a 999 call being placed.

A further 65% result in the caller being referred to a treatment hub; and 30% result in the caller being advised to look after themselves at home.

This system is ensuring people get the best advice, in the safest possible way, putting the fewest people at risk and it’s benefits are being felt across the country.

We have also quadrupled our testing capacity, to around 2000 per day, that will increase further in the week ahead, and made testing available to our key workers.

By the beginning of this month, health board estimates suggested that approximately 5,000 NHS workers or family members had been tested. We expect the numbers of people tested to rise considerably in the days ahead.

At present – since I know this is an issue some of you have raised – just under 6% of NHS Scotland staff are absent from work as a result of this virus.

And finally, we continue to prioritise the delivery of personal and protective equipment – not simply to hospitals, but also to care homes and carers.

Health Protection Scotland published revised guidance last week on when - and how – PPE should be used.

The NSS Social Care call line – which helps care service providers with urgent equipment needs - has been running for two weeks. In that time, as I mentioned last week more than 6 million pieces of personal protective equipment have been delivered to more than 1000 care homes and other locations across Scotland.

And more broadly, we are in close contact with the Care Inspectorate to understand how Covid-19 is affecting the delivery of care across Scotland.

We have also set up a dedicated contact point for frontline professionals to raise any concerns they might have about the availability of PPE.

Finally, I have a three other items to update you on today.

The Scottish Government has been working on how we address drug and alcohol misuse with our Drug Death Taskforce and a number of other organisations- including the Scottish Drugs Forum, Scottish Families Affected by Alcohol and Drugs, and Public Health Scotland.

Today we are providing funding of £166,000 to support those with drug and alcohol issues.

Among other things, this will fund a publicity campaign helping people to know where they can get support during the pandemic, and it will improve access to naloxone, a medication which reverses opiate overdose.

We know that times like these – which are difficult for everyone – people will need help to deal with alcohol and drug related problems.

We want to make sure that that help is available.

The second point is that an additional £8m is being made available to help third sector organisations.

Among other things, it will enable them to provide emergency accommodation for those who might otherwise be homeless, and to distribute food to families and individuals who might otherwise be going hungry.

And finally, we will this afternoon publish further guidance for the construction industry. This guidance, developed with Construction Scotland and the trade unions, maintains the Scottish Government’s commitment to the precautionary principle that sites should not be open unless they are actively contributing to the health and wellbeing of the nation.

The final point I want to make is simply to underline once again that – although these updates set out what the Government and our partners are doing – tackling Covid-19 remains a job for every single one of us.

The decisions we make as individuals – about keeping our distance, about mixing with other households, and about staying at home except for essential purposes – will help to determine how rapidly the virus spreads, and how well we get through this.

I don’t underestimate how difficult these restrictions are – and know they may well seem harder as the weather improves, and as a degree of boredom possibly sets in. That will be particularly true for families with children.

But they continue to be crucial. Doing the right thing, and staying home, is the way in which we slow the spread of the virus, protect the NHS, and save lives.

So thank you once again to everybody who is doing that.

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