Coronavirus (COVID-19) update: First Minister's speech 20 March 2020

Statement given by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at a media briefing on Friday 20 March 2020.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon – 20 March, 2020

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen

As of 9am this morning, there were 322 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Scotland, that is an increase of 56 since yesterday. Sadly there are six people who have died having been diagnosed with COVID-19. That is no change on the figure that was confirmed yesterday.

Today, I want to start by sending my very best wishes to children across the country who are having their last day at school for what might be quite a while.

I fervently wish that we were not having to close schools – but it is essential to help us reduce the impact of this virus.

I want to say to all young people across the country as you finish school today, thank you for all your hard work this year, you are all an enormous credit to your schools and to your communities and of course to your parents.

I also want to say thank you to all of our teaching staff and non-teaching staff in our schools and early years settings. And all those who are and will be continuing to work flat out in our education service, both over the last few days and the days to come, to help us adapt to what is a rapidly changing situation.

The very fact that the Deputy First Minister confirmed yesterday that for the first time in our history, there will be no exams this year underlines the seriousness of the situation that we are facing.

So let me take the opportunity today because it is so important to remind everyone of the advice we are asking you to follow.

Reduce your social contact unless it is absolutely essential to go out – that means working from home where possible. It means staying away from crowded places like pubs, restaurants and cinemas.

And if you are over 70, eligible for the flu vaccine because of a health condition or pregnant – you should take that advice particularly strongly and stay at home as much as possible. There will be further advice published later today for pregnant women in particular.

If you show symptoms of a new and persistent cough or a mild fever – stay at home for 7 days. And if someone in your household is showing symptoms, you should all stay at home for 14 days to ensure you do not become infected and pass the infection on to others.

And at all times, follow the advice on washing your hands, using tissues and avoiding touching your face.

Some of the sacrifices that we are asking people to make, and they are sacrifices, we are asking people to fundamentally change the way we live our lives, that these will become more apparent to us and more difficult as we head into the weekend.

I know that there will be some of you wanting to head out to the pub for one final night out, or were looking forward to a meal out with friends.

But my guidance is clear, and crystal clear, please do not do this. You must not consider this vital health advice to be merely optional.

Now, let me say candidly and frankly, I know people don’t like being told what to do by politicians. In normal times, I might not blame you for not wanting to be told what to do by a politician.

But please understand and believe me when I say that this is vital. It is vital for your own protection, the protection of your loved ones particularly if amongst those there are older or vulnerable people. It is vital for the protection of our NHS and its ability to care for those who will need it in the weeks to come. It is vital for the protection of all of us and it vital to help us save lives.

I want to thank all those who have complied with this difficult advice so far, but again, to be candid, I do have a concern about younger people who I know will be disappointed not to be able to socialise with their friends over the weekend.

Again, I cannot be clearer – please do not think that this advice just applies to other people and not to you.

As a young person, if you get the virus, there is no absolute guarantee you will just have mild symptoms. But even if you have mild symptoms, you still risk passing it on to people who are more vulnerable. Please do not take that risk.

Doing everything we can to slow down the spread of this virus now means that we will save lives and we will protect our NHS.

We cannot just carry on as normal – life, right now, is not normal.

I recognise that this guidance, the advice we are asking people to follow, is already having a very severe impact on certain industries – and we are working with the UK Government and others to do as much as we can to address that.

There is disruption for businesses right now across the economy. This is an unimaginably difficult time for businesses and for employers and for those that work across our economy.

My message to businesses large and small is that we know this is difficult, we know times are hard, are we will do everything we can to help you.

Earlier this morning I chaired a Cabinet Sub-Committee of my Economy Ministers to discuss the Government’s economic response.

We have already made £2.2 billion available through business rates support and grants.

In the coming days and weeks we will be expanding what is called our PACE system which helps those who become unemployed into alternative jobs. We know that there are sectors right now, the supermarket sector, that are expanding and seeking to employ more workers.

We will also use our procurement systems and government contracts to keep financial support flowing to companies, and we will be asking local government to do the same.

And we are looking across our transport system, and key industries to identify further actions that we can take.

We welcome the support the UK Government has announced so far but we are pushing them to do more to help people – and I am very hopeful there will be substantial announcement from the Chancellor later today.

We have called on the UK Government to put substantial support toward helping companies pay wages and keep people in jobs. It is essential that the government takes action to put money into people’s pockets.

Whether that is through the tax system or national insurance, it is the biggest, non-health intervention that we can take now to support society through this crisis.

More help is also needed for those who are self-employed or on temporary or zero hours contracts who might not get the full benefit of other UK measures if support is provided through tax or national insurance systems alone.

And as we do everything we can to help business, and we are determined to do that, business also has a role to play in helping us to take on the challenge of this virus.

So I asking businesses to treat your workers fairly and to respect the health advice.

Do not make your employees come to work when the health advice says they should be in isolation, and don’t make them come to work when they can work safely at home.

Everyone, of course, thinks their staff should be defined as key workers – I understand that and some, of course, will be right. But if your staff can work from home then you should let them do that.

Finally, I want to thank the vast majority of people who have been sensible in their shopping habits this week – and also to the supermarkets who have taken steps to ensure that supplies get to those who need them, particularly the more vulnerable members of our communities.

I know that some people have felt the need to stockpile certain items – but my clear advice is do not do that. There is no need to do that.

If everyone remains sensible in their shopping, then there is more than enough to go round. Supermarkets and pharmacies will remain open and supplies will continue to get them.

And while it is tempting to get everything from the supermarket – your support for local businesses at this time can also be a lifeline to them.

So before I pass on to the Chief Medical Officer, before taking questions, let me stress again my key message today.

This has been an unusual week for all of us, and I think that is a gross understatement. I want to thank all of you who are already making big changes in your lives as part of the national endeavour to slow down the spread of the virus.

But I cannot stress this enough. All of us, as we go into this weekend and beyond, need to follow the guidance. It is there for the protection of all of us.

Let us not look back in a few weeks and wish that we had done more to protect ourselves and each other.

The time to act is now.


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