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 0900 this morning, there have been 894 positive cases confirmed - an increase of 175 from yesterday. As always, let me be clear that these numbers will be an underestimate.
It is also with sadness that I can also report a further three deaths of patients who have tested positive for Covid 19 – taking the total number of deaths to 25.
I want to extend my condolences to all of those who have lost loved ones and again thank our NHS staff who continue to care for people suffering from the virus – their efforts are enormously appreciated.
And I also want to thank the many other people who are helping to keep essential services going at this time of crisis.
I’ve got a few things to update you on today.
The first thing is that the Coronavirus Bill, passed by the UK Parliament yesterday, gained Royal Assent yesterday.
This means that the Scottish Government now has the power to make regulations to enforce the social distancing measures that we announced on Monday.
We are now preparing regulations to give police in Scotland enforcement powers. Colleagues in the UK Government are working to do the same and we expect these regulations to be in force as soon as possible, perhaps as early as today.
The regulations give us the power to enforce rules which most people are now following anyway. I thank people across the country for their compliance.
Where necessary, the regulations will require the closure of listed businesses and premises, and will help to ensure social distancing is enforced by those businesses and premises which are able to continue operating.
The regulations will also provide enforcement powers for the police, and, where appropriate, for people designated by local authorities.
They will help to enforce the rule that there should be no public gatherings of more than two people, except where those people are from the same household, or in other limited circumstances such as responding to an emergency or work related purposes where that is genuinely essential.
They will also enforce the restrictions on people staying at home. It will now be the rule that you should only be outside for a reasonable purpose – such as buying food or essential household or medical supplies; travelling to or carrying out essential work; exercising once a day; or providing care or assistance to others.
Those found not be to be acting in line with these regulations can be directed to return home or made to return home. They can also be subject to prohibition notices. If people do not follow prohibition notices, or instructions to return home, they could be liable to an on the spot fine - and ultimately, if necessary, prosecuted.
Police Scotland will continue to take a soft approach to enforcement. But they will have powers to act if deemed necessary.
I recognise how unusual and out of character these regulations are. They will have important safeguards. They must be reviewed at least once every 21 days, and we will act to remove the restrictions as soon as it is safe to do so. The legislation itself will last for a maximum of six months.
These regulations would have been unimaginable just a few weeks ago. However the measures are essential.
One question we have continually been asked is about equipment for health and care staff.
I want to emphasise to NHS workers and to those working in the wider care sector that I know how important this is.
We are announcing today that we have brought an extra 1½ million facemasks back into use from the NHS Scotland central stockpile. The protective masks were stockpiled because they were past their expiry date – but they have now undergone extensive testing which has shown them to be fit for use.
We also continue to do everything necessary to protect businesses and communities from the economic impact of these essential public health measures.
I welcome the fact that the Chancellor will provide details of support for self-employed people later today.
That is something the Scottish Government have consistently called for. If there is a role for the Scottish Government, following the Chancellor’s announcements, we will do what is required, to ensure that self-employed people in Scotland get the help they need.
However we appreciate that people may be beginning to struggle now, and that some people face the prospect of several weeks’ wait for funding.
Aileen Campbell last week announced £350 million of funding - including extra support for the third sector and for councils – to help people to cope with the economic and social impact of this crisis.
As part of that, we more than doubled the Scottish Welfare Fund, which is administered by local authorities.
This makes community grants and crisis grants available to those in immediate need. Those funds now have more flexibility – and people should know that they are there for anyone who is facing real hardship.
Other support is also available.
While I know there are long waits, I would encourage people to ensure they apply for statutory sick pay, or for universal credit.
Speak to your local council about your council tax, to find out if you are eligible for a council tax reduction – the Scottish Government has given councils more money to support that.
Speak to your energy provider if you are finding it hard to pay your bills, or having issues with a prepayment meter - they have schemes in place to help.
Speak to your mortgage provider or landlord about your rent or mortgage. We have been very clear that six month mortgage holidays should be available, and that nobody should be facing eviction as a result of this crisis.
Help is available. So if you are suffering hardship, and you haven’t yet explored these options, please reach out. The earlier you do that, the earlier you can access assistance.
That helps to summarise some of the key developments in the last 24 hours in Scotland’s response to convert 19. However as you will have gathered, our key messages remain the same.
The Scottish Government, working with the UK government, is supporting our NHS to meet the challenge it currently faces, and the even tougher challenge that we anticipate lies ahead.
And we are also working flat out to support businesses and communities across the country.
But this is – has to be - a collective effort. The power to stop this epidemic rests with all of us. By sticking to the lockdown – by staying at home except when it is essential not to, and by keeping more than two metres apart from each other - all of us will help to slow the spread of cases and reduce the number of people who will die from this virus
And by helping each other as we do that – by finding ways to support each other even as we are physically separated – we will all help each other get through this.
Once again, I want to thank everybody across Scotland who is taking these steps.
Please know that in complying with these measures, each and every one of is helping to save lives.
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