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17/11/20 15:07

Coronavirus (COVID-19) update: First Minister’s statement – Tuesday 17 November 2020

Statement given by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to Parliament on Tuesday 17 November 2020

Presiding Officer,

Firstly, I will summarise today’s statistics.

The total number of positive cases reported yesterday was 1,248.

This represents 9.7% of all tests carried out, and takes the total number of cases to 83,259.

439 of the cases were in Greater Glasgow & Clyde, 282 in Lanarkshire, and 153 in Lothian. 

The remaining cases were spread across the 8 other mainland health boards.

1,249 people are now in hospital – an increase of 22 from yesterday.

95 people are in intensive care, which is 3 fewer than yesterday.

And I regret to say that in the last 24 hours, a further 37 deaths have been registered of patients who first tested positive over the previous 28 days.

The total number of deaths, under this measure, is now 3,323.

Once again, my deepest condolences go to all those who have lost a loved one.

National Records of Scotland will publish its weekly report tomorrow. This records deaths confirmed through a test as being Covid related and also those that are presumed to be so.

It is very likely, based on the numbers we have reported in the past seven days, that the death toll on that wider measure will this week pass 5,000.

That is a sombre and deeply distressing milestone. It is important we acknowledge it and remember every individual whose life has been lost to this virus.

These figures remind us of the harm and heartbreak that Covid causes if it is allowed to spread.

They also provide important context to today’s statement, in which I will report on the outcome of the Scottish Government’s review of the Covid protection levels, and set out the difficult but necessary decisions we have reached about the appropriate level of protection in each local authority area.

In reaching these decisions, the Scottish Government has taken careful account of case numbers and test positivity in different parts of Scotland. We have also considered the trends in each area - and the pace, or otherwise, of these trends - and we have assessed what all of that might mean for hospital and intensive care capacity.

We are publishing today the up to date and detailed data for each local authority area on the Scottish Government website.

We take advice from the National Incident Management Team, the Chief Medical Officer and National Clinical Director on the measures needed to control the virus, and from a range of senior officials on minimising the wider harms that result from Covid restrictions. We also consult with local authorities, before reaching a final judgment - which Cabinet did this morning.

Parliament will have the opportunity to debate these decisions I understand on Thursday.

This week - given that the levels system has now been in place for almost three weeks - we have also had the chance to reflect on what we have learned so far about the effectiveness of different levels in reducing prevalence and on the importance of acting quickly and firmly against this virus.

Let me turn to an assessment of the situation we face, before setting out the decisions we have reached.

The first thing I want to be very clear about is that the restrictions that have been in place in recent weeks - on household gatherings and hospitality - have made a difference. They have slowed down the increase in cases considerably and helped to flatten the infection curve.

In early October, we were on a trajectory that, without action, would have seen us reporting by now around 3000 cases each day.

Clearly that has not happened. Daily case numbers are almost a third of that. Prevalence in Scotland is also lower than in other UK nations.

So we have made progress, and that’s thanks to people across the country, but the overall level of infection remains higher than we need it to be. And the national picture is masking significant regional variation.

While some areas have low and slightly declining infection rates, a number of local authorities across central Scotland have case numbers and test positivity that are significantly above the national average.

And while the situation in many of them has stabilised, it has done so at a stubbornly high level. This creates concern for a number of reasons that I will set out later.

In summary, therefore, the Cabinet has decided as follows.

19 council areas - the majority - will see no change to their levels this week.

I am pleased to say that from the start of next week - assuming no significant deterioration in the situation before then - two areas will move down from level 3 to level 2.

However, 11 local authorities will from 6pm on Friday, for a strictly limited period, move from level 3 to level 4.

I will set out the details of all of these decisions in a moment.

However, I am acutely aware that for many individuals and businesses these decisions will be both disappointing and distressing. They demand more sacrifice from all of us.

So I want to take a moment to remind people why these decisions are necessary and what they are intended to achieve.

Firstly, they are necessary to ensure that the NHS can cope with the range of pressures it will face over the winter.

We must ensure that hospital and intensive care services are there, not just for those with Covid, but for everyone who needs them. That means we must get case numbers down from current levels before going into a period when winter pressures are very likely to increase.

Second, these decisions will give us the best possible chance - albeit in a limited and careful way - of being able to ease restrictions in all parts of Scotland for Christmas.

That is something all of us want to look forward to. But we also know it will increase the risks of transmission so we must get infection rates to a lower baseline now.

And, third, these decisions will help us limit the impact of the virus – including in loss of life - as we steer a path through the next few months towards the brighter times that are now within sight, as vaccines and better treatments become available.

Difficult though today’s decisions undoubtedly are, please do not forget that an end to all of this is now within our grasp.

But we must get through the next few months as safely as possible - and that means tough decisions cannot be avoided, no matter how much you, and I, fervently wish they could be.

Let me turn now to the detail of our decisions, starting with the local authorities that are remaining within their current level.

I can confirm that Orkney, Shetland, the Western Isles, Moray and the Highlands will remain in level 1.

For now, in common with the rest of the country, we are asking people in Moray and the Highlands not to visit other people’s houses.

However, for all areas in level 1, it will be permissible from Thursday to meet outdoors with up to 8 people from a maximum of 3 households.

I can confirm that Aberdeen City, Aberdeenshire, the Borders, Dumfries & Galloway, and Argyll & Bute will all remain at level 2.

We hope that these areas, Argyll & Bute in particular, will be able to move to level 1 soon. However, in some of these areas we have seen an increase in cases in recent days.

We are particularly concerned about quite sharp increases, albeit from a relatively low level, in both Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire.

That leads me to a general point - and a plea - to everyone living in level 1 and 2 areas.

Please don’t assume that being in one of the lower levels means you can ease up.

On the contrary, having fewer restrictions mean that the virus has more opportunities to spread - so it is more vital to abide by all the rules and precautions.

Please use the postcode checker on our website to remind yourselves of what the restrictions are in your area - and please stick to them.

I am pleased to report that East Lothian and Midlothian have both seen a marked decline in infection rates – prevalence in these areas is significantly below the level for Scotland as a whole.

On that basis, assuming no significant deterioration before then, I can confirm that East Lothian and Midlothian will move from level 3 to level 2 from next Tuesday 24  November.

Between now and then, the local authorities will be able to undertake necessary environmental health and compliance checks, and work with NHS Lothian to minimise any risk of increased transmission that the move to level 2 will bring.

I can confirm that the City of Edinburgh, Clackmannanshire, Falkirk, Inverclyde, North Ayrshire, Dundee, Fife, Perth & Kinross and Angus will all remain at level 3 for now.

These areas, to varying degrees, are all making some progress, though it does remain fragile.

However, if the progress continues, we are hopeful that they will move to level 2 soon.

Let me turn now to our decisions about level 4.

The council areas that will move to level 4 for a limited period from Friday are: the City of Glasgow, Renfrewshire, East Renfrewshire, East Dunbartonshire, West Dunbartonshire, North Lanarkshire, South Lanarkshire, East Ayrshire, South Ayrshire, Stirling and West Lothian.

In all of these areas, there are grounds for continued and significant concern.

In the seven days up to Friday, Scotland as a whole had just over 140 new cases of Covid per 100,000 people.

All of the areas moving to level 4 were above that level - ranging from West Lothian, with a rate of 158 cases per 100,000, to Glasgow with 277.

Test positivity for all of these areas, with the exception of West Dunbartonshire, was also above the average.

Stirling has experienced a particularly sharp increase in cases in the last week.

While some of that can be attributed to specific outbreaks, there is also a level of community transmission that must be tackled.

In the other areas, infection rates have stabilised or even slightly fallen as a result of level 3 measures.

However - and this is the key point of concern - the infection rate in all of these areas remains stubbornly and worryingly high.

At these levels, we simply do not have the assurance we need that hospital and intensive care services will be able to cope as we go deeper into winter.

Pressure on hospitals in these areas - and on those who work in them - is already severe and with the additional pressure that the coming weeks may bring, it could easily become intolerable.

And further, at these levels we would not have the flexibility we need to ease restrictions over Christmas - which, in common with the other UK nations, we so desperately want to do.

The clear advice of our public health experts therefore is that we must drive infection rates down further in these areas, and they are not confident that level 3 restrictions will do this to the extent necessary.

That is why, albeit reluctantly, we have taken the decision to place these areas into level 4 for a limited period.

The level 4 restrictions will be in place for 3 weeks - and will be lifted on 11 December.

And I want to be clear on that point. I know people are frustrated that other restrictions have remained in place longer than planned.

But level 4 is intended to be short and sharp. And in this situation, it is specifically intended to have an impact in advance of Christmas and the most challenging winter period.

Lifting the level 4 restrictions then - as we will do - also means that they will not be in place for most of the Hannukah period - so again, while celebrations may be different, there will be a greater degree of freedom.

We will assess nearer the time the level that will apply in each area when the level 4 restrictions end on 11 December.

Even if it does not happen immediately for all of them, we hope and expect that the action we are taking now will allow these areas to move down to level 2 much more quickly than would otherwise be the case.

Let me turn now to what level 4 means for people living in these areas.

Firstly, as is the case already, you must not visit other people’s homes, though you can still meet outdoors with up to six people from 2 households.

However, our advice is that you should stay at or close to home as much as possible.

The purpose of level 4 is to reduce interactions between people from different households as much as possible, to reduce transmission as quickly as possible.

That means limiting work and social contacts. 

Those who can work from home should do so - though unlike lockdown earlier in the year, construction and manufacturing workplaces can remain open.

Only essential indoor retail premises will remain open for this 3 week period. Non-essential retail will close.

Close contact services, such as hairdressers and beauty salons, visitor attractions, leisure and entertainment settings and indoor gyms will also close for this period.

And, with the exception of takeaway services, hospitality premises will close too.

So except for some very limited purposes - including childcare, or caring for someone who is vulnerable; exercise; or shopping for essential goods - people living in level 4 areas should not be going out and about over this 3 week period.

I know this will be tough.

This pandemic is having an impact on mental health for most, if not all, of us. If you need someone to talk to, you can find out what support is available at clearyourhead.scot or by calling NHS 111.

But also please remember this - our objective in taking this action now is to protect the NHS, create the prospect of seeing some loved ones at Christmas and complete the journey to next spring with as few restrictions as possible and with the minimum impact on life and health.

Let me turn now to the issue of travel.

Notwithstanding the difficult decisions today for significant parts of the country, the levels system is still allowing us to avoid a national, one size fits all lockdown such as is currently in place in England.

In my view, that is important. It means that people and businesses in lower prevalence areas, like the Highlands or parts of Lothian, are not forced into level 4 restrictions by the situation in higher prevalence areas like Glasgow.

But the ability to maintain that targeted approach depends on us not spreading the virus from high to low prevalence areas.

And that becomes even more important with parts of the country in level 4.

To put it bluntly - and we will require to monitor this - if we see evidence that people from East or South Ayrshire are visiting places in North Ayrshire, or that people from Glasgow are going to Inverclyde, we would have no choice but to consider level 4 too, and we don’t want to do that.

So it is essential that we all abide by travel restrictions.

To underline how important this is, I can confirm that the guidance that has been in place in recent weeks will become law from Friday.

That means people living in level 3 or level 4 must not travel outside their own council area, except for certain essential purposes.

People living elsewhere in Scotland must not travel to level 3 or level 4 areas, except for essential purposes.

And there must be no non-essential travel between Scotland and other parts of the UK.

I know this is difficult, but it is essential. Broadly comparable restrictions have been or continue to be in force in England and Wales.

And if we are to maintain a targeted approach and allow low prevalence areas to live with fewer restrictions, I cannot stress enough how important it is that we all abide by these rules.

Let me say a few words now about schools, those in the shielding category, business support and, finally, the wider action we are taking to beat the virus.

I am aware that some people will argue that schools should also be closed at level 4.

However our very clear view is that the harm done to young peope by closing schools significantly outweighs any impact that schools have on transmission.

Keeping schools open is therefore a priority.

However, we will keep the guidance for schools – and how it is being implemented - under close review.

A further evidence paper on school safety will be published by the Deputy First Minister tomorrow.

There are also specific measures in place for those on the shielding list – we currently recommend that children who were shielding should not attend school in person in level 4 areas.

More broadly, I know this is an anxious time for people who were shielding.

We are not advising the same strict isolation as in the previous lockdown – we know how harmful that is to wellbeing.

Instead, the advice is to be especially vigilant. The Chief Medical officer will be writing directly to all people in level 4 areas who were on the shielding list to provide more detailed advice.

These restrictions are also very difficult for business, and so we are making more financial support available.

In addition to the UK furlough scheme, all businesses that require to close, at any level, are eligible for a four weekly grant of £2,000 or £3,000, depending on rateable value.

Grants of £1,400 or £2,100 are available to businesses that are open, but subject to trading restrictions.

Eligible businesses can apply for these grants now through their local authorities.

I can also confirm today that - in addition to this - we are establishing a £30 million discretionary fund to enable local authorities to provide additional support for businesses where they consider that necessary or justified - for example, for businesses in supply chains, or to taxi drivers suffering a severe but indirect effect.

We will also make an additional £15 million available for newly self-employed people who have not been able to access other forms of support.

And we are making an additional £15 million available to local authorities to help with the community and social impact of a move to level 4.

More details of these funds will be made available shortly.

I have focused, necessarily, in this statement on restrictions.

But our focus now, increasingly and much more positively, is on the other ways of beating this virus.

We do have real reasons to be optimistic that science will get us out of this pandemic - and soon.

So later this week, the Health Secretary will set out to Parliament our plans to start vaccinating the most vulnerable as soon as stocks of an approved vaccine are available, hopefully even before the end of the calendar year, and then to roll this out across the adult population as quickly as supplies allow.

And next week, now that we have a supply of lateral flow tests, the Health Secretary will set out our plans for mass testing.

This will include more detail of plans we have announced already to test care home visitors, NHS staff and students.

But it will also set out plans for geographic mass testing, drawing on the lessons of the pilot underway in Liverpool, and the options for extending mass testing to other groups of key workers.

And that is an appropriate point to end on.

This pandemic is taking its toll on all of us - and on some much more than others.

I know that today’s decisions will add to that for many - and I am truly sorry for that.

Whether you agree with the decisions or not, please know they are not taken lightly.

But they are essential to get us to the other side of this as safely as possible.

That means all of us sticking to the rules and remembering FACTS in everything we do.

And it means holding firm to what this is all for.

In the midst of a global pandemic that is nobody’s fault, this action is necessary.

It is necessary to protect ourselves and those we love from a potentially deadly virus.

It is essential to help the NHS look after all of us who need it.

To give us the hope of some respite and time with loved ones at Christmas.

And, with as little suffering and loss of life as possible, to help us complete the final stage of this horrible journey to the point, hopefully next spring, when we will be vaccinating, testing and treating our way back to normality.

I can never thank everyone enough for all the sacrifices that are being made. And I will never underestimate how difficult it is.

But I do hold to the belief that love and solidarity - albeit with a lot of help from science - we will get us through this. And that soon we will be looking back on it, not living through it.

So please try to stay strong.

And please, stick with it and stick together.