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24/06/20 13:02

Coronavirus (COVID-19) update: First Minister's speech 24 June 2020

Statement given by the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon in Parliament, Edinburgh on Wednesday 24 June.

Thank you Presiding Officer.

As this is Parliament’s final full week before a shortened summer recess, I wanted to take the opportunity to set out the Scottish Government’s latest assessment of when further changes to lockdown restrictions might take effect.

However, I’ll begin with an update on the latest figures.

Since 9am yesterday, an additional nine cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed, which takes the total number now to 18,191.

A total of 880 patients are currently in hospital with suspected or confirmed COVID-19, which is an increase of 15 since yesterday.

But it includes a decrease of 23 in the number of confirmed cases.

As of last night, 23 people were in intensive care with confirmed or suspected COVID-19, which is an increase of two on the number that I reported yesterday.

Unfortunately, in the past 24 hours, four deaths of patients who had been confirmed as having the virus have been registered, which takes the total number of deaths in Scotland under that measurement to 2,480.

In addition, National Records of Scotland has just published its more detailed weekly report.

These figures report deaths where COVID has been confirmed by laboratory tests - and also cases where the virus was entered on a death certificate as a suspected or contributory cause of death.

The latest NRS report covers the period to Sunday 21 June. At that point, according to our daily figures, 2,472 deaths of people who had tested positive for the virus had been registered.

However, today’s report shows that, by Sunday, the total number of registered deaths with either a confirmed or a presumed link to the virus was 4,119. Of those, 49 were registered in the seven days up to Sunday, which is a decrease from 69 the week before.

This is the eighth week in a row in which the number of deaths from the virus has fallen.

The number of excess deaths, the number above the five-year average for the same time of year, was 39 which is up from 34 in the previous week - however, for context, the number of excess deaths 10 weeks ago was 878.

Deaths in care homes made up 41 per cent of the total COVID deaths last week, and the number of COVID-19 deaths in care homes reduced again, from 35 to 20.

These statistics tell of real and sustained progress.

But even though the number of deaths from COVID is reducing, we must never become inured to them. Every death represented in these numbers is a tragedy – the loss of a unique and loved individual. And I want to send my condolences to everyone who is grieving as a result of this virus.

I am also aware that talking about statistical trends will not provide them with any consolation whatsoever.

However the trends are clear and – for all the pain that this virus is still causing and the real risk it still poses – they are positive, and they give us confidence now to set some firmer milestones for our route out of lockdown.

The Scottish Government first published the route map for leaving lockdown on 21 May – almost five weeks ago.

The week before we did so, more than 300 people in Scotland died from the virus. At the peak of the epidemic back in April, 660 people died from the virus in a single week. As I have just reported, in the most recent week, the number of deaths reduced to 49.

At the time of publishing the route map, the R number was between 0.7 and 1. Now, it is between 0.6 and 0.8.

And on 21 May, we estimated that 25,000 people in Scotland at that time had the virus and were capable of transmitting it to others. Our most recent estimate was that 2,900 people were infectious and tomorrow, when we publish the updated assessment, I expect it to have fallen further to around 2,000.

This progress is due to people across Scotland doing the right thing and following the rules. I want to record my thanks again to everyone for that.

The sacrifices that have been made have suppressed the virus – though I know how hard and at times painful they have been. They have also protected the NHS, and  they have undoubtedly saved a significant number of lives.

They have also brought us to the position where we can now look ahead with a bit more clarity to our path out of lockdown.

But let me stress that each step on this path depends on us continuing to beat the virus back.

If we don’t do that, we can’t take these steps forward. And if the virus starts to spread  again, the steps we have already taken may need to be reversed.

That is what we must do absolutely everything in our power to avoid.

That means continuing with the careful approach that has brought us to where we are now.

Our pace is slightly slower than England’s - but it is, in my view, right for our circumstances and, I hope, it is more likely to be sustainable than if we went faster.

Maintaining our progress also means all of us abiding by public health guidance.

Wearing face coverings in enclosed spaces, avoiding crowded places, washing our hands and cleaning surfaces regularly, maintaining physical distancing and agreeing to immediately self-isolate and get a test if we have symptoms - all of these basic protections matter now much more than ever.

They will reduce the ability of the virus to spread, even as we all get out and about a bit more.

And that Presiding Officer is the key point - the virus has not and it will not go away of its own accord.

It will pose a real and significant threat for some time to come. So we must not be complacent in the face of it.

We must keep working to drive it down further, towards the point of elimination  - because that then gives us the best change of keeping it under control through testing, surveillance, contact tracing and the application of targeted suppression measures when that is necessary.

The prize if we succeed is getting greater normality back in our lives, and maybe more quickly than we would have envisaged a few weeks ago, and hopefully without reversals back into blanket lockdown.

And nowhere does any of that matter more than in schools.

As John Swinney said yesterday, ‘blended learning’ is a necessary contingency because we might need it. There are no certainties with this virus.

But the progress we have made so far now makes it possible to plan for a full time return to school in August, with appropriate safety measures in place.

To achieve this aim though we must continue to drive the virus down to the lowest possible levels and keep it there.

And I hope that the prospect of getting children back to full time education sooner rather than later gives us all an added incentive to do exactly that.

The same is true of the updated version of the route map that we have published today.

That now sets out a series of indicative dates and I stress indicative dates, for the remainder of Phase 2 and the early part of Phase 3.

This greater clarity is possible because of the progress we have made against the virus - but delivering on the milestones depends on that progress continuing.

We will complete our formal three week reviews, as required by law, on 9 and 30 July - and I’ll make statements in parliament on both of these dates.

But I hope today’s statement will provide people and businesses across the country with a bit more certainty now in their forward planning.

We will also issue detailed guidance ahead of the key dates being indicated today.

The guidance will be informed by the advice we commissioned last week from our scientific Advisory Group on two key issues: Firstly, what, if any, further mitigations are required in locations that might pose a higher risk of transmission; and second,  what settings, circumstances and with what mitigations might it be possible to allow a relaxation of the two metre physical distancing rule.

I will receive that advice next week and report on it by 2 July. We will issue guidance as soon as possible after that.

However, there are three general points I want to make today in advance of it.

First, unless and until we have confidence that the risk of moving away from it in certain circumstances can be mitigated, businesses and individuals must continue to comply with the two metres physical distance rule. However, I do understand the concerns businesses in certain sectors have about this and I hope in the period ahead we can find a viable and safe balance.

Second, we will take a decision on whether to make face coverings mandatory in shops, as we have already done on public transport, in light of the advice we receive next week. In the meantime, we will join with the retail sector in a campaign to promote and encourage their use.

Third, to support our test and protect system, businesses in the hospitality sector will be required to take names and contact details of customers and store these for four weeks - so they should be preparing for that now.

Let me turn now to the updated route map.

As I announced last week, non-essential retail can re-open from Monday. So too can workplaces in the manufacturing sector that have been closed until now.

Outdoor playgrounds and outdoor sports courts can also open from Monday.

However, I can confirm indicative dates now for the rest of Phase 2 and for the early part of Phase 3 - let me repeat though that all of these depend on continued suppression of the virus.

I can confirm that, on 3 July, it is our intention to lift the guidance advising people in Scotland to travel no more than five miles for leisure and recreation purposes.

And although the tourism sector will not open fully until the 15 July, we intend that self-contained holiday accommodation – for example holiday cottages and lodges, or caravans where there are no shared services - can open from 3 July.

However, we would ask people to use good judgement, abide by the rules that apply at any time to households meeting up and be sensitive to those living in our rural communities.

And the advice remains to avoid crowded places.

As we hopefully suppress the virus further, we will also continue to consider any measures that might be necessary to protect against the risk of imported cases of the virus.

It is then our intention that outdoor hospitality such as beer gardens will be permitted to re-open on Monday 6 July.

That gives a few days after we receive advice from the Advisory Group for guidance to be issued and any necessary mitigations to be put in place.

I hope that we will then be able to move to Phase 3 of the route map on 9 July. But as indicated earlier, I will make a further statement to Parliament on that date.

However, as was the case with Phase 2, I don’t expect that we will do everything in Phase 3 at the same time. Instead, we will take a phased approach. The resumption of NHS and other public services, for example, will continue during the three week period.

However, I will give some indicative dates now for the early part of Phase 3. Others will be added later.

We intend that from 10 July, households will be able to meet people from more households outdoors - with physical distancing. I will confirm the details of that in my 2 July update.

I also hope, at that point, to confirm an expansion of the extended household model - and also some changes that will give young people more opportunities to mix with their friends over the summer holiday period.

However, I can confirm now that organised outdoor sports for children and young people can, subject to guidance, resume from 13 July.

We also expect that non-essential shops within indoor shopping centres will re-open from 13 July, subject to guidance on physical distancing and other measures.

From 10 July, we intend that a household will be able to meet indoors with people from up to two other households, subject to physical distancing and strict hygiene measures .

We intend that early learning and childcare services will be able to resume from 15 July, subject to individual provider arrangements. It is likely though Presiding Officer that capacity will remain restricted initially.

As we have indicated, the tourism sector generally - and therefore all holiday accommodation - can re-open from 15 July.

We intend that indoor locations such as museums, galleries, monuments, cinemas and libraries will also be able to reopen from that date, but with precautions in place - for example, tickets being secured in advance – and of course subject to physical distancing and strict hygiene.

Unfortunately, though, theatres, bingo halls, nightclubs, casinos and other ‘live’ entertainment venues will not re-open until a later date.

We intend that pubs and restaurants will open indoors from 15 July - but on a limited basis initially and subject to a number of conditions. Detailed guidance will be issued as soon as possible.

And last, but not least for many of us, we intend that hairdressers and barbers will re-open from 15 July. Other personal retail services will remain closed until a later date.

The other changes Presiding Officer planned under Phase 3 require further consideration and assessment. These include communal worship, indoor live entertainment venues, outdoor live events under certain conditions, indoor gyms, and the lifting of restrictions on attendance at weddings and unfortunately funerals. I am not able to give indicative dates for these today. However my judgment now is that these changes are unlikely to take effect before July 23, though we will of course keep that under review.

In addition, before the end of July we will provide further advice to those who are shielding.

We want - if we can - to move away from the current position of blanket guidance for all shielding people, to much more tailored advice about risk and how to mitigate it.

Presiding Officer

Our challenge – which is not an easy one - is to manage all of this change while keeping the virus firmly under control. If at any stage there appears to be a risk of its resurgence, our path out of lockdown will be halted and we may even have to go backwards.

To avoid that, we must get as close as possible to elimination of the virus now and build confidence in our ability to control it in future through surveillance, testing, contact tracing and, where necessary, targeted suppression measures.

If we can do that, then the move from Phase 3 to Phase 4 will become possible, perhaps as we go into August.

That won’t be easy and it certainly at this stage cannot be taken for granted. But we can all play a part in making it happen.

Complying with the requirements of Test and Protect is absolutely vital.

An information leaflet about Test and Protect is being delivered to every household across Scotland this week.

But let me take the opportunity now to remind everyone watching and indeed everyone in the Chamber what it asks of all of us.

If you have symptoms of the virus, you and your household should self-isolate and book a test immediately.

The symptoms to watch out for are a new cough, a fever or a loss of or change in your sense of taste or smell. If you experience any of these symptoms, please don’t wait to see if you feel better later that day or the next day - take action straight away.

You should book a test at nhsinform.scot or by phoning NHS24 on 0800 028 2816.

Presiding Officer

I hope this statement has been useful in providing some further clarity on changes that are likely to take effect in the early part of the summer.

Both I and my ministerial colleagues will keep Parliament updated over the course of recess. As I said earlier, I’ll make further statements in the chamber on 9 and 30 July.

And I will also provide regular updates in the daily media briefings.

I hope very much that by the time Parliament meets again in two weeks, we will have made further progress in the fight against the virus and be further down the path out of lockdown.

But I cannot stress enough that depends on all of us.

The choices we have made to date as individuals, and indeed collectively as a society, have brought us this far - albeit with a lot of sorrow and anguish along the way.

But arguably, the choices we make in the coming weeks will be even more important - as we learn to work, socialise and live alongside each other again, but in a way that keeps the virus under control.

For us to meet each other indoors again, for more businesses to reopen, for children to return to school on a full time basis in August - all of that depends on all of us acting for the common good.

It depends on everyone sticking to the essential public health rules, and having the patience to stick with a careful but steady path out of lockdown.

So for the moment, except for those who have chosen to form an extended household, please continue only to meet family and friends out of doors. If we stick with that for a further two weeks, I am hopeful that indoor meetings will be possible again soon.

And please at all times remember our key guidance – remember the FACTS.

Face coverings should be worn in enclosed spaces - public transport, shops and anywhere else that physical distancing is more difficult.

Avoid crowded areas.

Clean your hands regularly and thoroughly, and clean hard surfaces after touching them.

Two metre distancing remains the clear advice.

Self-isolate, and book a test immediately, if you have symptoms of COVID - a new cough; a fever, or a loss of, or change in, your sense of taste or smell.

It is because so many people have done the right things, and have stuck so closely to the rules, that we are now making such progress. That is what has brought us to a position where we can see a route back to living less restricted lives.

So please, stick with it. Be sensible and apply careful judgment. In everything we do, we should be thinking not just of our own health, but that of everyone around us too.

And if we all continue to do the right thing by each other and by our communities, we will get through this more quickly.

So please – to everybody, my message is this -  stay safe, protect others and save lives.