Coronavirus (COVID-19) update: First Minister's speech 8 April 2020

Statement given by the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at a media briefing in St Andrew's House, Edinburgh on Wednesday 8 April.

Good afternoon everybody. Thanks once again to all of you for joining us for this media conference.

I want to start as usual today with an update on some of the key statistics in relation to Covid-19 in Scotland.

And let me flag up at the outset today that because of some new detail that we are publishing, some of this is a little more complicated than normal, so please bear with me.

As at 9 o’clock this morning, there have been 4565 positive cases confirmed – that is an increase of 336 from yesterday’s figures.

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

A total of 1771 patients are in hospital with Covid-19 - that is as of last night, that is an increase of 20 on the figures I reported to you yesterday.

And, within that, a total of 210 people, again as of last night, were in intensive care with confirmed or suspected cases of Covid-19. That is an increase of 11 on yesterday.

Later today at 2pm further information will be published showing the breakdowns of these hospital and intensive care figures by health board.

Now, I have spoken before about the way in which we are recording deaths caused by Covid-19.

For our daily update figure – the ones which you have heard me give every afternoon at these conferences – we now report on deaths registered by National Records of Scotland, where the individual has been tested and confirmed as having Covid-19.

In the last 24 hours, I am afraid that 70 deaths have been registered in this way– and that takes the total number of deaths in Scotland as of 9 o’clock this morning, under that measurement, to 366.

Those figures are the best figures and most accurate figures we can provide on a daily basis. However, as I have said before in these updates, they do not capture all Covid-19 deaths.

National Records of Scotland – or NRS - are therefore also now publishing, on a weekly basis, a further report, and the first of these has been published round about half an hour ago.

And this new report captures all deaths registered within a 7 day period. That includes those who have died with a confirmed laboratory diagnosis of Covid-19 and also those whose deaths are presumed to be linked to Covid-19.

That means this report also includes cases where Covid-19 is entered on the death certificate as a suspected cause of death, or as a contributory factor in someone’s death, but where no formal test was carried out.

The number of deaths covered under this reporting system is therefore larger than under the daily system when you compare the two figures on the same date. It is also, unfortunately, almost certainly more accurate.

As I say, NRS are publishing the first of those weekly reports today. And it covers the period up to Sunday 5th April, so three days ago. And that report shows that in total, by Sunday, 354 deaths had been registered in Scotland as being linked to Covid-19.

Now, you might be wondering why that combined figure is smaller than the figure I’ve given today of 366 for laboratory confirmed cases.

And I want to be clear, that’s simply down to a time lag. The figure I have given for confirmed cases is more up to date, but as of 5 April which is the reporting date this week for the combined figure of 354, the number of laboratory confirmed cases as part of that total was 220.

Now, I am aware that this all sounds more complex today than usual. But hopefully it will become clearer as the additional reporting system becomes more familiar.

And I want to stress that it is all in the interests of providing information that is as full and comprehensive as possible.

It is important to stress that these figures record deaths according to the date of registration. Now, while this is normally done quickly – within three days - there can be a gap of up to eight days between someone’s death, and the death being registered.

NRS is therefore looking at ways in which in future we can also publish information by date of death, although, I should say, this is more complicated to do .

There is one other issue in the figures this week that requires some explanation, and it is again due in part to the transition to new systems for registering deaths.

In the week from Monday 23rd of March to Sunday 29th of March, registration offices in Scotland were closed at some times, as they began preparations for remote death registration during the pandemic.

That means that some of the registrations last week would ordinarily have taken place the week before.

That in part explains why the figures for all deaths last week - not just those attributed to Covid-19 – are much higher than in the same week in previous years, and why there appears to have been such a sharp increase in overall deaths in one week.

However not all of that sharp increase in deaths – which is over and above the numbers attributed to the virus – can be accounted for by that backlog being made up. So this is an issue we are exploring and studying this further.

The final point I want to make is that these new weekly figures include more detailed data than has previously been the case – for example they provide breakdowns of the deaths according to health board area, sex and age.

These breakdowns show that it is those who are older, who are more likely to die of Covid – however they also show that nobody is immune, that younger adults can also succumb to Covid-19, and everyone therefore should follow the rules to protect themselves and to protect others.

It is important to understand why this information matters.

It is not just that we want to count how many people are affected by this virus. Although that, of course, is very important. This information is also essential to helping us to understand who is most severely impacted by the virus, how it has spread and is spreading across the country, and whether there are any hot spots where there are more cases than we would expect to see.

It helps us plan for how many beds we need in our hospitals, and it will help to tell us when the peak of the virus has passed, and when we might be able to make decisions about lifting some of the restrictions.

I know, and I have reflected on this before at this podium and it I something I have reflected on regularly, It can be hard hearing accounts of numbers of deaths.

I understand that for many it can make us feel powerless – that something we cannot see or feel, is taking so many lives.

But we all do have power as individual citizens, and I want again today to stress that – by following the rules, by staying home, by self-isolating when we have symptoms, all of us can help to reduce the number of deaths.

And finally – I have said this on several recent occasions, but I think it is appropriate to say it again.

I focus on the statistics in these conferences because they are really important to give some overall sense of how the virus is spreading.

But I am acutely aware that deaths are much more than statistics. Each and every one of these death represents an individual whose loss is a cause of deep grief. So I want again to express my condolences to everyone who has lost friends, family or loved ones.

Now, I have three other issues I want to update you on briefly today, before I hand over to the interim Chief Medical Officer and the Cabinet Secretary.

The first point relates to personal protective equipment.

We have seen the letter a range of medics wrote yesterday expressing concern about the PPE they are currently using and I want to make clear the interim CMO will be reaching out today to understand those concerns. The Cabinet Secretary will be discussing this issue directly with the BMA and the RCN.

This is an issue where we will always, always strive to listen to, to understand and to address concerns that are being expressed. We understand, I understand, how crucial it is that health and care workers have the equipment they need for the environment they are working in. That is why we issued updated guidance last week.

The second related point I want to mention is that the Cabinet Secretary and Deputy First Minister will join Cosla in a call with the trade unions this afternoon to seek to resolve concerns expressed by those who work in the care sector.

Now, we do not think we are far apart at all from the care sector and care workers on this – it is, after all, in everyone’s interests for care sector workers to be able to do their job safely. So I want to stress again that if issues and concerns are raised with us – for example about the wellbeing of care workers - we will seek to address these issues fully and quickly.

We know how much we owe to workers in the health and care sector all of the tie but particularly now. We are incredibly grateful for everything you are doing for us right now. And we know that we must protect you, as you protect and care for us.

The third issue and final issue I want to cover is the support we have made available today to help students who are facing hardship. A£5 million fund will be made available for this.

More than £4 million of it comes from our Higher Education Discretionary Fund, and the Scottish Funding Council’s student support budget for further education, and it will be made available to colleges and universities immediately. Students can apply directly to their college or university for these funds, and I would encourage them to do so.

And finally, in these briefings I often, as I have done today, sadly talk about those who have lost their lives from this virus.

But, in these really tough times, it’s important we don’t lose sight of good news.

So I want today to pass on my very best wishes to Daphne Shah.

Daphne is 98 years old and she has been receiving treatment for Covid-19 at Ninewells Hospital in Dundee.

Note that I said ‘has been’ receiving treatment. Daphne has now recovered from this virus and she is back at home.

Her recovery is an inspiring and very welcome good news story. But it is also a reminder that even in dark times, there is always light and hope.

I am sure all of us wish Daphne very well.

Now, I’m about to hand over to the interim Chief Medical Officer, but I want to end by repeating the key public health guidance. Stay at home, except for essential purposes, and do not meet up with people in other households.

I know this gets more difficult with every single day that passes, but it remains vital. It is how we slow the spread of this virus, how we give our NHS the best chance to cope with all that is faces, and it is also about how we all work together to save lives. So thank you once again to everybody who is following this advice and doing the right thing.

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