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03/04/20 13:30

First Minister COVID-19 update

Media briefing, St Andrew's House

Good afternoon everyone.

I want to provide you with an update on Scotland’s response to the Covid-19 epidemic.

First, I can confirm that, as at 9 o’clock this morning, there have been 3001 positive cases confirmed - an increase of 399 from yesterday’s figures.

Nevertheless, as always, let me be clear that these numbers will be an underestimate.

A total of 176 people last night were in intensive care with confirmed or suspected cases of Covid 19. That is an increase of 14 on yesterday, and a total of 1321, including intensive care patients, are in hospital across the country.

And it is with sadness that I can report that there have been 46 further deaths of patients who had tested positive for Covid 19. That takes the total number of deaths in Scotland to 172.

I want to extend my condolences to all of those who have lost loved ones. We announce on a daily basis the number of deaths, but we should never forget that every single one of these statistics is a human being who leaves behind relatives and friends who grieve for them.

I want once again to thank everyone who works in our health and care sector.

I’m well aware that there are many other people who are also going the extra mile at the moment. Today I also want to particularly acknowledge people working in our food and drink and essential retail sectors.

This is not an easy time to work in agriculture, or food manufacturing, or distribution, or of course in stores and supermarkets that require to remain open. But what everyone in these sectors do is absolutely essential for all of us and I am very grateful to all of them.

I really just want to cover three issues today. First I want to follow up on some of the points I made yesterday about testing in Scotland.

I know that there has been a lot of attention paid to the UK Government’s pledge to test 100,000 people a day by the end of April.

Obviously it’s not for me to set out the basis behind the UK Government’s target, or how it plans to get there.

What I can do, however, is set out what Scotland is doing – including our work with the UK Government.

When you factor in the difference in size between Scotland and the UK, what we are doing will take Scotland to the same sort of position that the UK seems to be aiming for.

We are increasing NHS Scotland’s current capacity of 1,900 tests a day, to at least 3,500 tests a day by the end of the month at the latest. That is broadly similar – although slightly more ambitious – than the UK pillar 1 target of 25,000 tests a day.

This expansion of testing capacity means, among other things, that we will be able to test more key workers.

However in addition to increasing capacity within NHS Scotland, we are also working with the UK Government and other partners to further increase testing capacity beyond that.

Yesterday’s announcement that a new testing facility is being established by Glasgow University, in collaboration with industry partners and the NHS, is a very good example of that.

We are currently working to establish exactly how many more tests we think the Glasgow University facility, together with other initiatives, will deliver. However they will allow us to increase our testing capacity in a way which is proportionate with the rest of the UK.

Finally, we continue to think about how widespread testing – including, perhaps, antibody testing – will be used in helping us to move out of this period of lockdown. Specifically in relation to an antibody test, that kind of test doesn’t currently exist in a reliable form - we hope it will soon but the fact is it may still be some time away.

The Scottish Government has established a Testing Oversight Group involving the Chief Scientist for Health, Professor David Crossman.

It has been tasked with overseeing the following strands:

  • the increase of NHS lab capacity and also the Scottish delivery of the UK wide programme to deliver non NHS testing
  • the development of antibody testing so that as soon as tests are available we are in a position to deploy them here in Scotland
  • surveillance, epidemiology and prioritization. This strand will also look ahead to the role of testing in our eventual strategy to exit the lockdown measures
  • logistics and access to testing
  • data management

The second issue I want to cover concerns shielding - measures we are putting in place to protect people who are at the highest risk if they contract Covid-19, because of their existing health conditions.

We previously estimated that up to 200,000 would be in this group. Further work has been done to remove duplication and ensure accuracy and we can now say that there are approximately 120,000 people across Scotland in one or more of these categories. If you are uncertain about whether or not you should be one of them, full details are available on the NHS Inform website.

The Chief Medical Officer has now sent more than 110,000 letters to people in these groups. The reminder will arrive shortly.

The letters give information on how people can shield themselves from infection, and on what support is available to them.

This support includes access to home deliveries of essential food items and toiletries through a text message service.

More than 8,000 people have signed up for this service already, and have been texted with the option of receiving deliveries. Those deliveries started this morning.

I want to stress that you don’t need to have a mobile phone to register. Anyone in the highest risk group can sign up if they need it – details of how to do that are in the letters that people have received.

In addition, information is available on the NHS Inform website, and through the main phone switchboard of your local council. And we will be writing again soon with local contact details.

I want to encourage everyone in this high risk group to register. You might not feel you need help right now - but registering will help us to keep in touch with you if you need help later on.

We are also working with local health boards to ensure the delivery of specialist medicines - such as chemotherapy drugs – to people in this group, and we are working with supermarkets to prioritise delivery slots.

Fundamentally, we know that some people, due to pre-existing conditions, will be particularly at risk should they contract Covid-19. We are determined to shield them and give them the support they need, to ensure that they can protect themselves.

The final issue I want to mention is that we are now one week away from Easter, and are about to head into what would have been the Easter school holidays.

As you know, although schools have been closed, school and childcare facility provision is still available in all local authorities for people who absolutely need it – for example for children of health and care service staff.

I can confirm today that all local authorities will keep learning and childcare centres open in their area during the holiday period.

The arrangements made during holidays might be different from those made during term time. And the number of centres that are open – and the types of support they provide – will vary in different council areas according to local need.

But by making learning and childcare available in every local authority area over the holiday period, we can make sure children are safe and well looked-after, while their parents are doing critical jobs. I am grateful to all local authorities for working with us on this.

There is of course a more general point about the Easter holidays.

This will be a holiday period unlike any other we have known. I know that many people will be thinking about plans they had made - before the Covid-19 pandemic- to get away, and to visit friends and relatives.

And of course, it’s not possible to go on holiday around Scotland, or to visit friends. Everyone will be staying home, except for essential purposes such as exercise or buying essential supplies.

Once again, I know how hard this is. But these restrictions are absolutely essential.

We’ve heard discussion in the media today to the effect that this virus may peak in around one week’s time. I want to address that point directly. There is still a lot of uncertainty around when the virus will peak and as we gather more data I hope that we will be able to offer more certainty about that in the period ahead.

But I want to be very clear because I’ve always said I will be straight with people in these difficult times. Nothing I have seen gives me any basis whatsoever for predicting the virus will peak as early as a week’s time here in Scotland.

So I don’t want to have a false expectation based on what they might be hearing in the media.

That message is important because I have to ask people, we all have to ask all of you to continue to stick with these measures no matter how difficult they are.

Many of us took part in the applause for NHS and care workers that was heard across the country last night.

It continues to be the case that the best and most important way in which all of us can help our health and care services, is by staying at home as much as possible, and keeping our distance from each other.

So I want to thank all of you for doing the right thing and staying home over this holiday period. That is how we slow the spread of this virus. That is how we protect the NHS. And that is how we will save lives.