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Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 19th March 2020.

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Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

Before I turn to the issue of testing, I advise Parliament that, as of 9 o’clock this morning, a total of 266 positive cases have been confirmed, which is an increase of 39 from yesterday. As I have done previously, I stress that that is likely to be an underestimate of the true prevalence of the infection across our society. I am also extremely sad to confirm that, as of 9 o’clock this morning, there have been six reported deaths of patients in Scotland who had tested positive for Covid-19, which is an increase of three from yesterday. I put on record that my thoughts are with their loved ones at this incredibly painful time for them.

On testing, front-line critical and key workers, particularly in the national health service and social care, are the priority for our expanded testing services. Broadly speaking, we are seeking to meet three objectives with testing. The first is to protect those who are most vulnerable and to save lives. That is why those who are admitted to hospital with Covid-19 symptoms or with upper respiratory infection will be tested. Secondly, we aim to allow critical workers to be at work unless they are actually ill. Work is on-going in all four nations to define the list of critical workers, but it of course includes those at the front line of our NHS and social care services. The third objective is to allow surveillance to enable us to monitor the prevalence of the infection across the population.

Right now, we have three laboratories that are operational, in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dundee. Between them, they currently have the capacity to do around 780 tests per day. Work is under way to expand capacity, initially to enable up to 3,000 tests to be done every day. In the longer term—hopefully not too much longer—we hope that new forms of testing will be available. That work is being led by the United Kingdom Government. The new tests will be dipstick tests rather than swab tests, which will allow people to test themselves much more quickly and tell whether they have had the virus. Those are not available right now, but I hope that the testing will be expanded in that way as soon as possible.