Coronavirus (COVID-19) update: First Minister's speech 31 March 2020

Media briefing by the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon given on 31 March 2020.

Good afternoon everyone.

I want to provide you with a further update on Scotland’s response to the Covid-19 epidemic.

First, I can confirm that, as at 9 o’clock this morning, there have been 1,993 positive cases confirmed - an increase of 430 from yesterday’s figures.

108 of those 430 come from one laboratory, which was unable to submit data over the weekend – that is part of the reason why the increase is so significant.

The increase also reflects the ongoing expansion of our testing capacity that I have talked about previously.

A total of 135 people last night were in intensive care with confirmed or suspected cases of Covid 19. That is an increase of 27 on yesterday. In total including those who are intensive care, there were 1,073 suspected or confirmed cases in hospitals across Scotland.

And it is with sadness that I can report that there have been 13 further deaths of patients who had tested positive for Covid 19. That takes the total number of deaths in Scotland to 60.

I want to extend my condolences to all of those who have lost loved ones.

And I want once again to express appreciation for everyone working in our health and care sector. Everyone in Scotland is grateful to you for the work that you are doing.

The Cabinet Secretary for Government Business and Constitutional Relations, Michael Russell, will talk later about the emergency legislation we have just published, and which will be considered by the Scottish Parliament tomorrow.

Among other things, it provides for the continuing function of the justice system during this emergency period, it relaxes restrictions for businesses and government in relation to some statutory processes; and it provides greater protections for tenants.

It is in many ways an unprecedented response to an unprecedented situation. Some of its provisions are of a type I never expected to be introducing to parliament. These provisions will remain in force no longer than is absolutely necessary.

And so I think it is worth highlighting – although Mr Russell will say a bit more about this – that they have been developed in discussion with opposition parties. That approach is one we will continue for any future emergency legislation that might be required during this period.

I want to briefly highlight four other issues.

First I want to update you on the situation in relation to delayed discharges - where people who are well enough to leave hospital cannot do so, because care arrangements for them are not in place.

We set a target of reducing cases of delayed discharge by at least 400 – or 25% - from the baseline of 4th of March. Current figures indicate that we have achieved that, and that delayed discharge cases have been reduced by more than 400. We are now aiming to reduce numbers even further during April.

This reduction is of course good in itself – people should not be in hospital for longer than they need to be.

But it is also of course a very important part of our efforts to increase NHS hospital capacity as we start seeing more cases of Covid-19.

I also want to update on NHS staffing figures.

Yesterday we were asked about the numbers of people off in the NHS. I can confirm that at present just over 6% of NHS staff are off with Covid related symptoms or self-isolating.

That number is relatively low, and while we expect it to rise in the weeks to come, we have begun testing of key workers and we will continue to work to get people back to work as quickly as possible.

I also want to comment on the announcement we made yesterday on early education and childcare.

Local authorities were on track to implement their new duty, from August, of providing 1,140 hours of free childcare a year to all three and four year olds, and to two year olds who will benefit from it most. In fact, more than 50,000 children were already benefitting from expanded childcare.

It is however clear the Covid-19 emergency makes it impossible for some local authorities to meet that target– it is already having a major impact on recruitment drives and construction work.

We are therefore no longer imposing a statutory duty on local authorities from August.

We are however absolutely clear today we remain committed to ensuring that the expansion of childcare happens as soon as possible. It is one of the most important policies of this government, and one that we will resume working towards as soon as we possibly can.

And the final issue I want to talk about relates to the £350 million communities fund which we announced two weeks ago. Money from that fund is being allocated to organisations across the country, and today we have confirmed that more than £1.5 million in total will be given to Scottish Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis Scotland.

There is a real risk that women and children who are already subject to domestic abuse will feel even more isolated and vulnerable during the Covid-19 crisis. This funding ensures that they have access to support services.

In fact, I want to ensure people know that Scotland’s Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline remains fully operational at all hours during the coronavirus pandemic.

You can e-mail or web-chat through their website, or you can call them on 0800 027 1234.

The key message is this: people who are suffering domestic abuse do not have to wait to seek help - help is available now.

I want to end by restating the most important message of all.

As updates like these demonstrate, the Scottish Government is working on a wide range of fronts to support the NHS and other parts of the economy and society and to deal with the impacts of Covid- 19.

But in many ways, the most important actions in dealing with this virus are the ones that every single one of us can take.

By staying at home, by limiting contact with other people as much as possible, everybody is doing their bit to slow the spread of the disease; to protect our NHS; and to save lives.

I hope that it won’t be too long before I am standing here talking about the slowing down of the virus. But we are not yet at that stage. And when we do reach that stage it will only be because people have been doing the right thing by staying at home.

So thanks once again to everyone who’s doing that. By staying home, you are saving lives.

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