Good afternoon everyone.
I’ll begin today with the usual update. As at nine o’clock this morning, there have been 1059 positive cases confirmed - an increase of 165 since yesterday. As always, let me be clear that these numbers will be an underestimate.
I can also confirm that as of last night there were 72 individuals with Covid-19 or with suspected Covid-19 in ICU.
It is with sadness that I can also report that there have been 8 further deaths of patients who have tested positive for Covid-19. That takes the total number of deaths to 33 in Scotland.
I want to extend my deepest condolences to all of those who have lost loved ones.
I want to again thank our NHS staff who continue to care for people suffering from the virus. And indeed thank the many other people who are helping to keep essential services going at this extremely challenging time.
It’s maybe even more appropriate than usual to start with a reference to those who work in our NHS and care services, since we like so many other people across the country, joined in the applause for NHS and care staff at eight o’ clock last night.
I hope that that showed clearly to the people working in our health and care services – although I hope this was never in any doubt – just how much the entire country appreciates everything you are doing on our behalf.
And that ties into the most important message I want to convey this morning.
Expressions of solidarity such as those we saw and heard last night are important and welcome by those who work in these services. But for all of us, the single most important way in which we can show our support for the NHS, is by staying at home whenever possible.
We are about to go into the first weekend since lockdown was announced, and I know that many of you watching will be struggling with being cooped up in the house as much as you are right now and being unable to do all the normal things that you would normally be looking forward to doing at the weekend. But it is vital that all of us stick with this.
The most important thing all of us can do for the NHS is to follow the advice and stay at home wherever possible. and to make sure we can have the biggest impact on slowing down this virus, you should only go outside for a good reason – such as buying food or essential supplies; travelling to essential work; exercising once a day; or providing care or assistance to others.
And when you do go outside, there shouldn’t be more than two of you in a group, unless all of you are from the same household.
The regulations which give us the power to enforce these rules came into force last night.
I want to say a special word here for our police – who are also being placed under real pressure by this pandemic, and who are doing an exceptional job for all of us.
But my hope and belief is that the police and others will not need to enforce these regulations very often. Because they simply enforce the public health guidance that the vast majority of people and businesses have been complying with all week. I am grateful to everyone for doing that.
I know that these restrictions are tough – and that for many people, they may feel even tougher at the weekend.
I’ll be thinking again of children and young people over the next couple of days – a weekend at home may feel especially difficult for you – I hope you stick to the rules, do what you’re told by your parents and carers but also have fun. I’ve seen lots of examples on social media of young people coming up with new and inventive ways of having fun while in the house.
I’ll also be thinking about grandparents like my own mum and dad, who usually look forward to a weekend visit – and I urge all those young people to make sure they pick up the phone to your grandparents this weekend or FaceTime them to tell them how you’re getting on but also to check in on them and see how they’re doing. I’m sure they would really appreciate it.
But I want to just remind people and underline why these rules are in place. It is because they are vital. Staying at home – more than any other measure – is the way in which we support and protect our NHS. And it is the way in which we can all contribute to saving lives.
I want to touch on a couple of other points before handing on to the Chief Medical Officer and then the Cabinet Secretary.
I spoke earlier in the week about the importance of looking after our mental health during this period as well as our physical health.
The Cabinet Secretary will say more about this, but I want to confirm today, that we are putting an additional £3.8 million immediately into the NHS’s mental health support services.
£0.5 million of that will support for the Breathing Space phoneline and web service, and £2.1 million will be for the NHS’s Mental Health Hub – which offers advice on wellbeing and mental health issues to people who have called the NHS24 service. The mental health hub will expand its staffing in the coming weeks, so that it can become available to the public 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
I can also confirm that we have added a dedicated page for mental health information to the NHS Inform website. So if you need support over this next period as many of us will then I would encourage you to look at the NHS Inform website to find out how you can get more support for mental health and wellbeing.
Lastly, I want to turn to the economy. I chaired the Cabinet Sub-Committee on the Economy earlier this morning, which discussed how we can continue to do everything we can to help business.
We have already announced a £2.2 billion package of support. Among many other things, that provides grants for many small or rural businesses, and full relief on non-domestic rates for all premises in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors.
We also welcomed yesterday’s announcement from the Chancellor, of support for self-employed people. It offers the sort of support that the Scottish Government and many business organisations and self-employed people have been asking for.
We do however have some remaining concerns about some of the potential gaps and also the fact that people may have to wait until June to receive money.
That will be immensely challenging for many self-employed people, and so obviously we hope that the UK Government will speed up support if at all possible – although I recognise the scale of what they are trying to do. Kate Forbes, the Finance Secretary will speak to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury this afternoon. And of course I want to give assurance the Scottish Government will continue to look at what more we can to do to help those who are self-employed and indeed others who are being affected in different ways.
I would also, once again, urge banks, landlords and other creditors to be flexible. That will be important in many situations during this crisis - and it will clearly be essential when dealing with self-employed people, who are facing cashflow difficulties which are in no way their fault.
I am about to pass you on to the Chief Medical Officer. And so I want to close by reaffirming the message I set out at the start of my remarks.
We are just entering our first weekend in lockdown, although I’m afraid it won’t be the last we go through with these measures.
We must continue to reach out and support each other in every way we can, even as we keep our physical distance from each other. And above all else, we must continue to do the right thing for the sake of the NHS and those who are most vulnerable to becoming seriously ill and dying from this virus. And that means staying at home.
By doing that, every single one of us in this collective national endeavour is helping to slow down the spread of this virus, protect the NHS, and save lives. And we are doing our bit, to get closer to the time when we get out the other end of this and can start to resume our normal lives. So my sincere thanks again to everyone for your co-operation, and I hope all of you have the best weekend that you can in the current circumstances.
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