Nicola Sturgeon: Coronavirus update speech in full

Read the First Minister’s coronavirus update here in full.

Thursday, 10th September 2020, 2:15 pm
Updated Thursday, 10th September 2020, 2:16 pm

The First Minister’s address to Parliament:

The Scottish Government is required by law to review lockdown restrictions every three weeks.

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The latest review is due today, and I will shortly update the chamber on the decisions we have reached.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

I will set out why we are not yet able to move to phase 4 of our routemap out of lockdown.

I will confirm that in light of the recent increase in cases of COVID - and because it must still be our aim to keep prevalence of the virus as low as possible - we have taken the precautionary decision to pause some changes that we had previously scheduled for slightly later this month.

I will also announce a tightening and extension of some existing restrictions and rules, as part of our efforts to slow the rise in cases as we enter winter.

And I will confirm that Protect Scotland, the significant enhancement of Test & Protect that I signalled in the Programme for Government, is now up and running.

First, though, I will report on today’s statistics.

Since yesterday, an additional 161 cases of Covid-19 have been confirmed.

That represents 1.9% of the people newly tested, and takes the total number of cases to 22,039.

65 of today’s cases are in Greater Glasgow and Clyde, 46 in Lanarkshire, 12 in Lothian and 8 in Ayrshire & Arran.

The remaining 30 are spread across 8 different health board areas.

A total of patients are currently in hospital with confirmed Covid-19, which is yesterday.

As of last night, people were in intensive care with confirmed or suspected Covid-19, which is yesterday.

And in the past 24 hours, 0 deaths have been registered of patients who had been confirmed as having the virus.

The total number of deaths in Scotland under that measurement therefore remains at 2,499.

We must never lose sight of the fact that every death represents a unique and irreplaceable individual. I want to send my condolences to everyone who has lost a loved one to this illness.

Let me turn now to the review of lockdown restrictions.

It is not possible at this stage to indicate a move from phase three to phase four of our route map out of lockdown. I can therefore confirm that we will remain in phase three for now - and that is likely to be the case for some time yet.

For us to move to phase 4, we must be satisfied that “the virus is no longer considered a significant threat to public health”.

As is obvious from the figures I have reported in recent days - and as has been confirmed to me in advice from the Chief Medical Officer - this is definitely not the case.

When we reviewed the lockdown measures six weeks ago, we had recorded 14 new cases a day, on average, over the previous week.

Three weeks ago, that average daily rate had risen to 52 new cases a day.

And in the seven days up to yesterday, the average daily rate was 155.

Our latest estimate of the R number is that it is now above 1 - possibly as high as 1.5.

Over the past week, we have also had to impose additional restrictions on people living in 5 local authority areas in Greater Glasgow and Clyde - Glasgow City, East and West Dunbartonshire, Renfrewshire and East Renfrewshire.

So rather than the threat to public health receding, the pandemic is at this stage accelerating again - albeit, and thankfully, from a low base and not as rapidly as it was back in March and April.

It is worth stressing that this position is not entirely unexpected.

In recent weeks, we have reopened significant parts of our economy.

Though many will be operating below full capacity, approximately 96% of businesses in Scotland are now trading again.

Children have gone back to school.

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And we have eased many social, leisure and travel restrictions.

People are meeting up more, going out more, and travelling more.

All of that is positive.

But as we released ourselves from lockdown, we also released the virus.

We gave it more opportunities to spread and so it was always likely that we would see a rise in cases.

Indeed, the reason we focused so firmly over the summer on suppressing the virus was to ensure that any increase was from a low base, and give our Test & Protect teams the best possible chance of keeping outbreaks under control.

And it is important - even in a period of rising cases - that we don’t lost sight of that objective to keep infection levels as low as possible.

That approach has been important.

Since late July, for example, Spain’s weekly level of new cases, per 100,000 of population, has increased from 34 to 126. France’s has risen from 11 to 60.

Scotland’s rate has increased from 2 to just under 20.

We have still come out of the summer with a relatively low prevalence of the virus.

And, of course, without Test & Protect - as well as the efforts of so many across the country - the virus would already have spread considerably further and faster.

So I am grateful to everyone for the collective effort so far. It has made a difference.

But cases are now rising.

We can see – by looking around Britain, Europe and the rest of world – just how difficult it is to keep the virus under control when globally the pandemic is still accelerating.

Even New Zealand - which at one stage reached zero COVID - has now reimposed some restrictions.

In Scotland - having ensured the reopening of schools - we are now welcoming students back to our colleges and universities.

That is a necessary and positive development - but because it involves people moving around the country and mixing, it undoubtedly brings further risks.

One point that is frequently commented on just now is that the recent rise in cases has not been mirrored by an equally large rise in hospital admissions or deaths.

That may partly reflect the fact that many of the new cases we are seeing are among younger people.

But although that can provide some comfort, it should not lead to complacency.

Although COVID kills relatively few younger people, we know it can still be harmful to their health.

It is not a virus anyone should be relaxed about getting.

In addition if COVID spreads too widely in the younger, healthier parts of the population, it will inevitably reach older and more vulnerable people.

That could then lead to an increase in hospital admissions and fatalities – as we are seeing now, to some extent, in countries such as France.

It is also worth noting that - although numbers are still low - we have seen a rise in hospital admissions in Scotland over the last couple of weeks.

However, let me make this clear: I understand how hard this is for young people and it is not their fault.

Younger adults are more likely to work in public facing jobs, more likely to have to use public transport and live in shared accommodation.

That is simply a fact of life for many younger people in our society - but it also makes it more likely that they will be exposed, and so all the more important that we stress the ways in which

they can protect themselves and others.

Taking account of all the most up to date information we have, it is the Scottish Government’s judgement that we cannot at this stage risk the new opportunities for transmission of COVID that reopening further services and facilities would entail.

In my statement on 20 August, I set out several changes that were provisionally scheduled for 14 September.

However I stressed then that “given the volatility we face in transmission of the virus, there is a very real possibility that some or all of these plans could change.”

Unfortunately, due to the rise in cases we have seen since then, we have concluded that these changes must be paused for a further three weeks.

The new indicative date for their resumption is Monday 5 October.

However, I must stress that this remains an indicative date – a final decision can only be taken nearer the time.

That means spectators will not be able to return to sports stadia and other venues over the next three weeks.

There are two pilot events due to take place this weekend which will proceed.

However, after that we will judge possible pilot events on a case by case basis, and in light of the latest COVID data.

The other services and venues affected by this pause are theatre, live music venues, indoor soft play facilities and indoor contact sports activities for people aged 12 and over.

In addition, outdoor events that have not yet been given the green light, such as those where a lot of people stand closely together, cannot yet restart.

I will give an update on funerals and weddings later in my statement.

I am well aware that for people who work in the sectors affected by today’s pause, this is a very hard message to hear.

I know how long you have waited to start up again, or to resume more of your activities.

And I know, because I have seen it in so many sectors, how much work you have put into plans for safe reopening.

And I know the impact of continued closure.

So I want to stress that this decision to delay the indicative date by 3 weeks has not been taken lightly.

But right now, given the rise in cases, it’s the only responsible decision we can reach.

For the same reason, the reopening of call centres and offices where staff are still working from home will be reviewed again on 1 October, but will definitely not take place before then.

For now, working from home will remain the default position.

Again, I am aware of the impact of long-term home working on many businesses and employees - and also on shops, cafes and bars which normally attract trade from office workers.

We are currently working with partners - including the Scottish Chambers of Commerce and the STUC - to plan for a safe, phased re-opening of these remaining offices when circumstances allow.

That planning will inform future route-map review decisions.

However at this stage, a full return to office working - which would substantially increase the number of people meeting indoors, and travelling together on buses and trains - would risk a significant acceleration of COVID transmission.

Finally, before I move on to further measures necessary to reduce the spread of the virus, let me say a few words to those in the shielding category.

We will continue to provide as much information and advice as possible.

In fact, if you are registered with the shielding SMS service, and live in areas where there have been local outbreaks - such as Aberdeen or Glasgow - you will have received text messages alerting you to changes in local advice.

We have also published a guide on the website, which suggests simple things you can do to lower your risk of exposure.

And you will receive an update letter soon from the Chief Medical Officer.

We understand that the recent rise in cases will cause concern –however, at this stage, we do not plan to reintroduce shielding.

Instead, we will continue to give you the information you need to help you to stay safe.

Presiding Officer,in addition to pausing the reopenings that had been planned for later this

month, we have concluded that it is necessary to tighten some existing restrictions, to help curb the spread of the virus especially between and within households.

As of now, up to 8 people from 3 households can meet indoors. Larger outdoor gatherings are also permitted.

I can confirm that we intend to change this, so that a maximum of 6 people from 2 households will now be permitted to meet together.

To help reduce transmission - but also simplify the rules as much as possible - this new limit will apply both indoors, in houses, in pubs and restaurants, and also outdoors including in private gardens.

There will be some limited exceptions, for example for organised sports and places of worship.

Also, any children under 12 who are part of two households meeting up won’t count towards the limit of 6 people.

Lastly, given the importance of these life events and the distress caused by not being able to mark them, we intend to allow a limited exception for funerals, weddings and civil partnerships.

Already, up to 20 people can attend ceremonies for these occasions.

We intend to retain that limit for now.

However, from Monday, that limit of 20 will also be permitted for wakes and receptions, as long as they take place in regulated venues like hotels with strict guidance in place.

I know that many have called for greater consistency in the arrangements for ceremonies and for receptions, and so I hope this will help deliver that.

I am asking people to abide by these stricter new limits on gatherings immediately.

However, the regulations that will give legal effect to them will come into force on Monday, and more detail will be available on our website.

And of course, for now, for people living in Glasgow, East or West Dunbartonshire, Renfrewshire and East Renfrewshire, the advice is not to visit other households at all.

Let me also re-emphasise that the new limit of six people from two households will apply in restaurants, pubs and beer gardens, as well as in our homes.

We hope that by reducing the risk of transmission in those settings, it will help to keep the sector open.

However, I can confirm that we have decided to implement two additional measures to reduce the risk of transmission in the hospitality sector.

First, we intend to make it mandatory for customers in hospitality premises to wear face coverings whenever they are moving around and not eating or drinking – for example when entering and going to a table, or to the bathroom.

And second, subject to some exemptions, we will also make it mandatory – rather than simply guidance - for staff working in hospitality premises to also wear face coverings.

The hospitality industry has put a lot of effort into creating safe spaces for people to meet and we hope these additional protections will help ensure the sector can remain open, with high levels of compliance.

Presiding Officer, the announcements I have made so far are hard for people to hear.

I know that after 6 long, hard months, we are still asking the public to make a lot of difficult sacrifices.

That is unavoidable, given the nature of the challenge we face.

However, I want to be clear that while we still face a battle to get and keep COVID under control, we are in a stronger position than earlier in the year.

Test & Protect is working well and now taking a lot of the strain.

Without it, the virus would be spreading further and faster, and we would require to apply much stricter lockdown measures again.

And today, a significant enhancement of Test & Protect has gone live.

The Protect Scotland contact tracing app is now available for download and use.

The app does not replace our current Test & Protect system - it adds to it.

The work of our teams on the ground - interviewing people who have tested positive, getting in touch with close contacts, and making recommendations based on the information they gather – will remain the cornerstone of our approach to controlling outbreaks.

However the app is an important addition to the work of these teams.

If you download it, you will receive a notification if someone you have been in close proximity with tells the app that they have tested positive.

It will be particularly useful for settings – such as public transport – where we tend to spend time in close proximity to people we don’t know.

And it will also be very valuable as students arrive back at university or college for the new term.

The app is available now from the Apple and Google Play App Stores.

More information is available on the new Protect.Scot website.

The app operates anonymously and confidentially.

And the simple fact is that the more of us who download and use it, the more effective it, and Test & Protect overall, will be in helping us beat COVID.

So I encourage everyone to download it today - and spread the word to all your friends and family.

This is a simple but very powerful thing all of us can do as individual citizens to help protect Scotland as a whole.

Presiding Officer, the pause in our routemap and the new restrictions I have outlined today are not welcome.

I know that - the Scottish Government did not want to have to impose them.

But they are necessary.

And they reflect the fact that Scotland - like the rest of the UK, Europe and the world - is currently in a precarious position.

However, notwithstanding that, we are in a much better position than in late March.

Prevalence of the virus is lower - thanks to the individual sacrifices that so many of you have made for the greater good.

We are seeing a rise in new cases, but it is not as rapid as it was earlier in the year.

And Test & Protect is working well. It is allowing us, even with a rise in cases, to live much more normally than we could under lockdown.

So we still have grounds for cautious hope. But we have no grounds for complacency.

It is vital to do everything we can to stop cases rising further before winter.

That is the reason for the decisions I have outlined today. These steps are necessary to help curb a virus that we know spreads rapidly whenever it gets the chance.

Of course, the success of these measures depends on all of us.

This is still, by necessity, a collective effort.

After all, while government actions like testing and contacting tracing has a significant role to play, the virus doesn’t respond to government instruction.

It thrives or dies according to how people behave. It spreads when we give it opportunities to do so, and it goes into retreat when we deny it those opportunities.

And although none of us can guarantee that we won’t get or spread the virus and it is not our fault when we do – it is, after all, highly infectious -we can all do our bit to reduce the chances of that happening.

I know that making those choices – keeping our distance from friends, staying in small groups indoors, washing our hands regularly – gets harder and more tiresome as time passes.

But they are more important now than they have been for months.

And the best way of remembering the key choices we all need to make is FACTS.

These are the rules which will help us to protect ourselves, our families and communities, and the NHS. And ultimately they will help us save lives.

Face coverings should be worn in enclosed spaces.

Avoid crowded areas.

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

Two metre distancing remains the clear advice and 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.

Keeping to those basic rules isn’t easy – but it remains the best way of expressing our care for and solidarity with each other.

Thank you, once again, to everyone for your patience - and for continuing to make these hard sacrifices, for the people you love and for the country as a whole.

The NHS Scotland Test and Protect App can be found here.

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