Scotland today, like countries across the world, faces an unprecedented challenge – addressing it will involve the biggest peace time mission our nation has undertaken in our lifetimes.
The scientific advice that all four Governments in the UK have received, shows that we are now on the cusp of a rapid escalation in the spread of Covid-19.
That means that we must take far more stringent steps to suppress as far as we can the spread of the virus; protect and scale up the capacity of the NHS as best we can; and, by doing these things, save lives.
The steps we recommended yesterday represent a major change for all of us – a change from life as we know it. But they are essential to give us the best chance of achieving those aims.
Let me summarise the three new recommendations that apply to Scotland as of yesterday. We had already made clear that if somebody has symptoms of Covid-19 – a persistent cough or a fever – they should isolate themselves for seven days. That means - as far as possible – they should not leave the house, and reduce contact with other people in the house as much as possible.
In addition – and this was a new element in yesterday’s advice - anyone else in a household where someone has symptoms, should isolate for 14 days.
That covers the 7 days for which the first person is infectious, and a further 7 days to see if they or anyone else gets the virus. These measures are essential to reduce the chance of spreading the virus to others.
The second measure – which applies to everyone, not just to people with symptoms - is that we should minimise social contact as much as possible. This is vital to reduce the risk for all of us of getting infected or, if we do, of passing it on to others, especially to those who are most vulnerable.
People should as far as possible avoid crowded areas and gatherings – that includes bars, restaurants and cinemas. We also want people to use public transport as little as possible, and to work from home if you can.
This advice is important for everyone, but it applies especially strongly to three groups – firstly, people who are over 70, second people with underlying health conditions for which they get the flu vaccine, and third women who are pregnant. We are strongly advising them to stay at home as much as possible, and to significantly reduce unnecessary social contact.
We are not so far proposing the blanket closure of schools. At present, our judgement is that the negative consequences of this – for the overall wellbeing of children and, in terms of the impact on the health service workforce for example – outweigh the benefits.
But I do want to assure the public that this is under daily review and the protection of children will always be our priority.
The third and final step is to shield the most vulnerable – by which I mean specifically people with compromised immune systems. GPs and other healthcare workers will be contacting these patients to ensure they are fully supported.
As well as trying to reduce the peak of the virus, we are increasing the capacity of our health service.
The Cabinet Secretary will speak in detail about that in a few moments.
But I want to restate my heartfelt thanks to everyone who works in our health and social care services. They are dealing with pressures which are already great, and which will soon become immense. We will do everything possible to support them.
I am also acutely aware of how serious the impact of yesterday’s recommendations will be for businesses and for households.
The actions we require to take to mitigate a health emergency will for many businesses and individuals cause an economic emergency.
We have already announced some support for business and we are urgently considering what more we can do. We are also speaking to the UK government about what more they will do for business, and we will set out further actions as soon as possible.
We will also be making more information available in coming days on support for those individuals in financial difficulty.
There is a fundamental principle here which in many ways goes to the heart of the contract between government and people. We as a government are asking people to take unprecedented actions. And we recognise, I recognise, that the response from government must also be unprecedented.
Presiding officer, the next weeks and possibly months will be immensely difficult. I know that for everyone this is a deeply anxious time. People want to do the right thing to protect their own health – and they also want to do the right thing for their loved ones and for the wider community.
The advice we issued yesterday is intended to help all of us do that. The steps we are recommending – isolating yourself if you or people you live with show symptoms; minimising social contact; washing hands for 20 seconds; not touching your face – all of these things really matter. By following them, we will all be helping to save lives.
We face a shared national challenge – and we will need a collective national endeavour to meet it. We all have a part to play. We must all show solidarity, compassion and kindness for each other – not simply in person, but in our phone calls and text messages, our social media presence, even our waves across the street to each other – and also of course in our offers to help where we can.
And by doing that – by looking after ourselves, our loved ones and our communities - we can and we will get through this. So I want to end Presiding Officer by thanking everyone across our country in advance for their help and support in the months ahead in doing just that.
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