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18/11/20 13:17

Coronavirus (COVID-19) update: First Minister’s statement – Wednesday 18 November 2020

Statement given by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at a media briefing in St Andrew's House, Edinburgh, on Wednesday 18 November 2020.

Thanks for joining us again today.

I'm joined today by Dr Dave Caesar, our Deputy Chief Medical Officer, who will assist me later as we take questions from journalists.

I will start with the usual update on today’s statistics.

The total number of positive cases reported yesterday was 1,264.

That represents 6.7% of the total number of tests, and takes the total number of confirmed cases in Scotland to 84,523.

420 of the new cases were in Greater Glasgow and Clyde, 312 in Lanarkshire, and 141 in Lothian.

The remaining 391 cases were spread across the 8 other mainland health board areas.

I can also confirm that 1,241 people are currently in hospital – that is a decrease of 9 from yesterday.

And 88 people are in intensive care, which is 7 fewer than yesterday.

And finally, I regret to say that 54 deaths have been registered in the past 24 hours of a patient who first tested positive over the previous 28 days.

That takes the total number of deaths, under this measurement, to 3,377.

National Records of Scotland has also just published its weekly update, which includes cases where Covid is a suspected or contributory cause of death.

Today’s update shows that by last Sunday, the total number of registered deaths linked to Covid, under that wider definition, has now unfortunately passed 5,000. By Sunday it was 5,135.  

278 of those deaths were registered last week, which is 71 more than in the week before.

198 of last week’s deaths were in hospital, 72 were in care homes, and 8 were at home or in another non-institutional setting.

Each one of those deaths represents a unique individual whose loss has caused grief and heartbreak. So once again, I want to send my condolences to all those who have lost a loved one during this pandemic.

The figures I have just read out are really grim and obviously distressing.

Some time in the future, when we are thought this pandemic, we will want to consider how as a country we want to commemorate the lives that the virus has taken. That is for another day, but given all the positive news about vaccines -  and we’re hearing more of that today - means that we may be starting to see the end point appear on the horizon.

One of the things we should be focused on now, and in my view should all play our part in, is how we get to the end of this with as few additional lost lives as possible. That encapsulates one of our motivations for yesterday’s confirmation that 11 local authorities will move into level 4 from 6pm on Friday.

The measures that we announced are tough.

They include the closure of all non-essential indoor retail, almost all hospitality, and premises such as hairdressers, indoor gyms and entertainment venues, so these are really difficult measures.

But they are temporary – we expect them to come to an end on Friday 11th December. But more importantly they are in our judgement necessary.

The current high levels of Covid that we see in western and central Scotland have to come down for three interlinked reasons. Firstly, to reduce deaths and serious illness. Secondly, to ensure that hospitals and intensive care units can cope so they can be there over the winter to treat people with Covid and other illnesses. And thirdly to allow for the prospect of people being able to meet up over the festive period without that then leading to much more illness and loss of life as we go into next year.

On that last point, we are all desperate for some normality at Christmas and I include myself in that.

Right now we are working very closely and well with the other UK nations to try to agree a way for that to happen. We want to have the same position across the UK given family patterns that exist. But we know that people coming together when a virus is circulating will increase the risks of it spreading and that means we need to be careful, but it also means that one of the most important  things we need to do between now and then, in order to  minimize that risk, is reduce the number of people in the population who have Covid and who will have Covid when we get to Christmas. Because if we do that, we reduce the number of people who might then be at risk of passing it on to loved ones if they are together at Christmas. So that is what these restrictions are in part trying to do. Even so, they were not taken lightly. And they were, I know, hard ones for many people to hear. But they will help us to achieve all of those aims and of course take us closer to the end of all of this, which we are now seeing, over the horizon, as safely as possible.

Now, there are three issues relating to yesterday’s announcement that I want to highlight in particular today.

The first relates to schools, as you know for the sake of the broader wellbeing of pupils we intend since schools will stay open in level 4 areas. But we know and recognise that some people have concerns about this. So some information being published today will be of interest.

Public Health Scotland has just published some experimental statistics about levels of Covid among schoolchildren. They suggest that in the first nine weeks of term, of 700,000 pupils in Scotland’s schools, there were 1,600 positive cases.

That represents just over 0.2% of pupils over that period, and it is consistent with other evidence that Covid is responsible for a small proportion of absences from school.

In addition, fewer than ¼ of all schools in Scotland had any cases of Covid among pupils. There were, as you might expect, more cases in secondary schools. But even so, fewer than half of secondary schools had any cases of Covid and 78% had no cases at all.

And of course, where there are cases that does not necessarily mean Covid is transmitting in schools. The small percentage of pupils who tested positive supports other research showing that Covid cases in schools tend to come from the community, not from the school.

There is of course, and we are not seeking to deny this,  still some risk of transmission in schools. That’s why we must continue to take all the necessary steps to mitigate that.

But today’s figures illustrate again how well local authorities, teachers, other school staff and students, have worked to mitigate that risk.

And they help to reinforce our view that at this time, the benefits young people gain from being in school, outweigh the overall impact of schools on transmission rates.

The second issue I want to cover relates to people who were advised to shield, and who are living in an area which moves to level 4 on Friday.

If you belong to that group, you will shortly get a letter from the Chief Medical Officer with detailed advice and guidance. Information for you is also available on the Scottish Government website.

One point I want to stress is that we do not expect you to stay at home for 24 hours a day, as was the case at the start of the pandemic. Although everyone in a level 4 area is being encouraged to stay at home and reduce contact as much as possible.

However we do recommend that you take extra care – for example by shopping at quieter times of day. 

I know that some of you will also be worrying about work. Like the rest of the population, you should work from home if you can. Employers should make sure their staff can work from home if possible.

However, if your job means that you cannot work from home, some of you will still be able to go into work, even if you live in a level 4 area. But you will want to be assured that your workplace is safe and employers have listened to your concerns.

They should already have taken significant steps to make the workplace safe.  If further changes need to be made, then discuss those with your employers. The letter from the Chief Medical Officer contains additional guidance on this which I hope you will find helpful.

And if your workplace cannot be made sufficiently safe, the Chief Medical Officer’s letter can be used as a Fit Note – as evidence that you are not able to go into work – for as long as your area remains in level 4.

So look out for the letter in the next few days, and check the Scottish Government website if you can.

And we hope that by providing you with the information you need, we can help you to take the decisions which best promote and protect your welfare.

The final point I want to cover today relates to travel restrictions, and let me be candid - I know that it doesn’t sit easily with anybody including me, to be told that you can’t travel freely within the country. I absolutely understand that. But many countries have restrictions like this in place right now for the good reason of trying to stop the virus spreading from area to area.

And that is deliberate in Scotland where we are trying to take a more localised approach – we are trying to avoid the whole country having to go into level 4 restrictions.

We can only keep relatively low levels of restrictions, for areas with low levels of the virus, if we ensure that people do not travel from areas with higher prevalence.

In addition, the less travelling people do, the fewer interactions they are likely to have. For areas with a high prevalence of the virus, reducing interactions is one of the key purposes of our restrictions.

So if you live in a level 3 or 4 area, you should not leave your local authority area except for essential purposes. Essential purposes will be published on the website but it includes, for example, work that can’t be done at home, or caring responsibilities.

If you live in a level 1 or 2 area, do not travel into a level 3 or 4 area – again, except for essential purposes.

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

From the start of Friday onwards, this guidance will become the law. That reflects the importance we attach to it.

So please, make sure that you stick to the rules on travel. By doing that, you will limit your ability to spread the virus, and you will do your bit to limit possible chains of infection. But you also allow us to continue with a targeted approach and avoid putting the whole country to the highest level of restrictions.

I also want to make a particular requests to students here.

I am well aware that university and college students have had a term like no other so far. And if you live in an area which is moving to level 4, I can understand that some of you might be tempted to return home immediately.

However please do not do that.

For the moment, please stay in your current accommodation. You will get the chance to return home for Christmas. But by waiting a little longer, we can ensure that you get tested for Covid before you do that. That is the best way of making your return as safe as possible.

Those are the key issues I want to cover today.

However the final point I want to stress, as always, is that the best way for us to reduce levels of the virus more quickly, is for each of us to stick to the rules and guidance in our area.

If you are in any doubt at all about what those rules are, please use the postcode checker on the Scottish Government’s website.

However nobody outside of Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles should be visiting each other’s homes, except for very specific purposes - such as childcare, or if you have to look after an older or vulnerable person, or if you are part of an extended household.

If you do meet people from other households – either outdoors or in public indoor places– the limit is six people, from a maximum of two households.

The one exception to that – from tomorrow – is for level 1 areas, who can meet outdoors in groups of 8, from 3 households. But in all other circumstances the rule is 6 from 2 households is the limit.

In addition, avoid car-sharing if you can.

Work from home if you can.

Download the Protect Scotland app, if you are able to.

And finally, remember FACTS - the five key rules that we can all use to reduce our chance of getting the virus, or of passing it on.

I know the vast majority of people are trying hard  to do these things all of the time - if you are not, please do.

All of us slip up sometimes but just remind yourself every day these do make a big difference. So remember:    

  • face coverings
  • avoid crowded places
  • clean your hands and clean hard surfaces
  • keep two metres distance from people from other households
  • and self-isolate, and get tested immediately, if you have any of the symptoms of Covid.

These rules will help us to protect ourselves, the people we love, our communities, and the NHS. And ultimately these simple basic things will help us collectively save lives and this is the time to focus on that, just as we have done throughout this pandemic.

So thank you to everyone who is doing that.