Coronavirus: speech by Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport 10 March

Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport Jeane Freeman speech on Coronavirus (COVID-19) to the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday 10 March 2020.


Presiding Officer, Covid-19 is presenting a profound and escalating challenge to countries around the world.

This situation is extremely fast moving, but I want to try and keep this chamber as up to date as is practicable.

As of 9am this morning there have been a total of 27 confirmed cases of Covid-19 infections in Scotland - an increase of 4 since yesterday.

All cases identified in Scotland either have a relevant travel history or are infections through contact with known cases.

With 19 cases being related travel history to ‘category 2’ countries with the majority from North Italy, and 8 through personal contact.

We are also carrying out enhanced surveillance, in the community through our GP sentinel network, in Intensive Care Units and our acute hospitals - but to date no cases have been identified through this means. This means we have no evidence yet of community transmission.

So we remain in the containment phase.

Action plan

As I set out last week following the publication of the UK-wide coronavirus action plan, it is important that our approach continues to be guided by clear scientific and clinical evidence routed through the Chief Medical Officers via the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies – or SAGE.

As members will recall there are three distinct phases to managing this outbreak. Namely

  • Contain – which is the phase we are in now
  • Delay – the steps needed to flatten the peak number of cases and protect the most vulnerable
  • Mitigate

There was a COBRA meeting yesterday, which I attended with the First Minister where these matters were discussed across the 4 nations, and there will be a further COBRA meeting tomorrow. The First Minister has also been chairing our SGORR meetings to ensure a cross government response and one that goes wider than simply the health service, but covers all of Scotland’s public services, business and tourism sectors.

As I have said, we like England, Wales and Northern Ireland, remain in the containment phase but we can expect to move relatively soon to delay when we begin to see cases transmitted in the community.

Our goal is to protect life, not least those of the most vulnerable in our society. All of our actions to date, and to come, are with that goal in mind.

The timing of moving into the ‘delay’ phase, and what measures are judged to be the most effective in that phase, must be and are driven very firmly by scientific and clinical advice.

Understandably people will be looking to the situation in other countries and questioning why some of the moves they are taking are not being made here yet in Scotland and in the UK.

I have to let the Chamber know that no measure has been ruled out, and the actions we take may develop and be added to as we seek to manage the impact of the infection and protect life.

If the actions we take can flatten the infection curve we will give our NHS the best chance to be able to treat the sickest patients to the very best of its ability. The timing of actions, guided by the scientific evidence, is being tailored to have the maximum impact in flattening that infection curve.

Timing is critical. If we take those measures too soon, we will not have the impact we need. If we take them too late, we will not reduce demand to the level we need

It is no exaggeration to say simple measure like hand washing and sneezing etiquette could help reduction the spread of infections and as a result help save lives. To prevent the worst impacts of this virus it will need not just action across our government, but across our society.

And we all need to be clear that while for the vast majority this will be a virus with mild symptoms, for many it will be a serious illness that is potentially life threatening.

I am aware that the steps that we may have to take in the coming weeks will have an impact on the normal day-today lives we lead. Anything we do will be carefully considered, in line with evidence, backed with clear guidance and supported. It will also be clearly explained in this Chamber and to the wider public.

What we are doing to prepare already

Work is already in hand to ensure the health and social care sector is as ready as it can be for any increase in cases.

This includes work to scale up NHS 24 to enable telephone consultation should there be restrictions placed on people’s ability to visit their GP or practice nurse.

We are working with the professional regulators to ‎establish urgent arrangements to allow us to bring back recently retired nurses and others if they are willing to do so. And work is in hand to explore how we might use students who are close to finishing their training in nursing and in medicine to allow them to be registered temporarily to support our efforts if needed.

We are also accelerating our ‘NHS Near Me’ provision with immediate investment of £1.24 million to ensure that we can support the video consultations which will be essential, to help us reduce face to face contact, and that will be essential should there be significant increases in the need for self-isolation. This is a rapid scaling up of these services that have been previously used largely in rural areas, but will now become more common in our urban settings too.

I have also taken the decision to postpone the annual NHS event, not because it is a large event but because our hardworking frontline staff need to be able to focus their collective efforts on responding to coronavirus. So this is simply about not placing an additional demand on our staff.

Thank you to staff

Presiding officer I want to again put on record my sincere thanks and appreciation to all the staff within the health and social care sector who have and continue to be working incredibly hard in both responding to this evolving and dynamic situation and continuing to discharge the high quality care the NHS Scotland is renowned for.

But I also want to thank all members of the public for their support in following the advice of hand washing and use of tissues and on contacting NHS24 or their GP if they have symptoms. They are acting to protect themselves and their families but they are also acting to protect all of us. This has to be a societal response. I am grateful to members for the support they have shown so far. I will continue to update this Chamber as quickly as is practically possible.

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