Covid-19 (Next Steps)

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 9th July 2020.

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Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

The Scottish Government is required by law to review lockdown restrictions at least every three weeks. The latest review falls due today, so I will set out our decisions and the next steps in our careful and cautious exit from lockdown. However, I will first give an update on today’s Covid-19 statistics and a report on our progress in tackling the virus.

Since yesterday, an additional six cases of Covid have been confirmed, which takes the total number of cases to 18,315. A total of 646 patients are currently in hospital with suspected or confirmed Covid, which is an overall decrease of 121 since yesterday. That includes a decrease of 16 in the number of confirmed cases. As of last night, nine people were in intensive care with confirmed or suspected Covid, which is a decrease of two on the number that was reported yesterday.

I am pleased to report that, in the past 24 hours, no 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 2,490. However, we must never lose sight of the fact that every death is a tragedy, and I send my condolences to everyone who has lost a loved one to this illness. I also know that statistical trends do not console those who are grieving.

However, the statistical trends are clear. In Scotland, Covid has now been suppressed to a low level. Indeed, even in the three weeks since I last updated Parliament, there has been significant progress. At that time, we were reporting approximately 20 new cases of Covid a day. The daily average now is around seven cases a day. Three weeks ago, there were more than 540 people in hospital with confirmed Covid, and the figure today is 342. Further, there are now just three patients with confirmed Covid in our intensive care units.

The number of people dying has also fallen week on week, as is shown in our daily statistics and in the weekly reports from National Records of Scotland. In addition, our latest modelling suggests that the R number remains below 1. It has been between 0.6 and 0.8 for most of the past month.

The number of people in Scotland with the virus also continues to fall. Three weeks ago, we estimated that around 2,900 people were infectious. Our estimate for last week was that around 1,000 people in Scotland were infectious. That confirms, as I explained yesterday when setting out our decision on air bridges, that the prevalence of the virus is now several times lower in Scotland than it is in the United Kingdom as a whole.

In determining whether we can move from phase 2 to phase 3 of our exit from lockdown, we have assessed our progress in tackling Covid against the six criteria for this stage that are set out by the World Health Organization, and we have concluded that we meet each of them.

However, I must advise Parliament that the fifth of those criteria, which relates to managing the risk of importing cases from outside Scotland, gave us some pause for thought. The balanced decision on air bridges that we announced yesterday was essential for us to conclude that we are managing that risk in an effective and proportionate manner at this stage. It is essential that we keep the risk under close review. To be clear, that must cover the possibility of importation from other parts of the UK, as well as from overseas.

Taking all the various factors into account, I confirm that it is the judgment of the Government that we can now move from phase 2 to phase 3 of the route map.

I also confirm that, in a limited number of sectors, we will allow an exception to be made to the requirement for 2m physical distancing. However, that will be subject to strict conditions that are tailored to the circumstances of each sector. Let me stress the term “exception”, because the general rule remains 2m.

For public transport and the retail sector, that exception will be permissible from tomorrow. However, it is essential that the required mitigations are in place and that appropriate discussions have taken place with trade unions before it becomes operational in any particular setting. Given some of what I will cover later, it is worth being clear at this point that the retail sector includes personal services such as hairdressing.

I also remind everyone that face coverings, which are already mandatory on public transport, will from tomorrow be mandatory in shops as well. There will be some exemptions: for young children under the age of five, for people with certain health conditions, and for staff in some circumstances. For the vast majority of us, however, it will be the law that we wear face coverings in shops. For the foreseeable future, wearing a face covering on a bus or a train or in a shop should become as automatic as putting on a seat belt in a car.

Although it should not need to be enforced, the police can issue fines for anyone who does not comply. However, I ask everyone to comply not from fear of enforcement but because it is the right thing to do—it helps us protect each other from the virus. That leads me to a general point that is important to stress before I outline the further restrictions that we intend to lift. The virus has not gone away. It is still out there, and it is just as infectious and just as dangerous as it ever was. Lockdown has suppressed it but, as lockdown eases, there is a very real risk that it will start to spread again. That is not conjecture; it is already happening in many parts of the world.

With every restriction that we lift, the risk increases, especially as we start to permit more indoor activity. All of us must therefore do everything that we can to mitigate it. Wearing face coverings is part of that, but so, too, are the other measures that are summarised in our FACTS campaign: face coverings; avoiding crowded spaces; cleaning hands and surfaces; 2m distancing; and self-isolation and booking a test if you have symptoms. I simply cannot stress enough that, as we move out of lockdown, those basic measures become much more important, not less—please, follow them to the letter.

Let me now confirm the key steps in phase 3 for which we are now able to set specific dates. You will find more detail on the Scottish Government website later today. As will be obvious from what I am about to say, we intend to take the same staggered approach to phase 3 that we did to phase 2. Not all changes will happen immediately or at the same time, which means that we do not bear all of the risk at once. However, the first changes, relating to the ability of different households to meet up together, will take effect from tomorrow.

Yesterday, the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport announced important changes for people who are shielding. For example, from tomorrow, you will no longer be asked to physically distance from people you live with, and you will be able to form an extended household if you live on your own or with children under the age of 18. Today’s route map includes a link to the additional changes that we hope to make to the shielding advice up to the end of July.

The other changes that I am about to announce unfortunately do not apply to people who are shielding but do apply to everyone else. Before I set out what those are, let me make a general point. Last week, we said that children under the age 12 no longer had to physically distance when outdoors; from tomorrow, that will also apply indoors. However, for adults and, for the time being, older children, the advice to keep a 2m physical distance from people in other households will remain.

However, from tomorrow, the general rules on household gatherings will be as follows. A maximum of 15 people from up to five different households may meet together outdoors. The advice is to remain 2m distant from people in households other than your own. From tomorrow, limited indoor gatherings will also be permitted. A maximum of eight people from up to three different households may meet indoors. To be clear, that is the household whose house the gathering is in and people from up to two additional households. As long as physical distancing between different households is maintained, that can include overnight stays.

I must stress, however, that that is one of the highest risk changes—if not the highest risk change—that we have made so far. We know that the risk of transmitting the virus indoors is significantly higher than it is outdoors. It is therefore essential that we all take the utmost care and strictly follow all the public health advice. That means keeping 2m distant from people in other households, being very careful to clean surfaces after you touch them, and washing your hands regularly, especially when you first enter someone’s house. At all times, try to avoid creating bridges that allow the virus to spread from one household to another. We are also advising that, between indoor and outdoor activity, adults do not meet with people from any more than four different household in any single day.

Finally, from tomorrow, we will change the guidance so that, regardless of their living arrangements, people who are part of a non-cohabiting couple no longer need to stay physically distant from each other, indoors or outdoors.

The next set of changes will take effect from next Monday 13 July. From Monday, organised outdoor contact sports and physical activity can resume for children and young people, subject to guidance being followed. So, too, can other forms of organised outdoor play.

Non-essential shops inside shopping centres can reopen, provided, of course, that they follow all relevant health and safety guidance. That will mean that, from Monday, the vast majority of retail will be open.

There will also, from Monday, be a further resumption of important public services. Community optometry practices will further increase their services, especially for emergency and essential eye care. Dental practices will be able to see registered patients for non-aerosol procedures. Let me explain that a bit more: aerosol procedures are those that create a fine mist, for example through use of a high-speed drill; we cannot yet allow those. Unfortunately, that means that many forms of dental care will still not be possible. However, procedures such as check-ups and the fitting of dentures and dental braces can resume.

From Monday, a woman can have a designated person accompany them to ante and postnatal appointments and can designate, in addition to their birth partner, one other person to attend the birth and make ante and postnatal ward visits.

Further important changes will then come into force from Wednesday next week, that is, 15 July. From that date, indoor restaurants, cafes and pubs will be able to reopen. However, just as with indoor household meetings, opening up indoor hospitality poses significantly increased risks of transmission, so it is essential that the guidance on health and safety is followed rigorously by businesses, staff and customers. That includes guidance on physical distancing and taking customer contact details, for use, if necessary, by test and protect.

Like public transport and retail, outdoor and indoor hospitality venues will be granted an exemption from the 2m rule from 15 July. However, that is dependent on the implementation of all relevant mitigating measures and appropriate discussions taking place with trade unions. Mitigating measures in this sector include clear information for customers that they are entering a 1m zone, revised seating plans and improved ventilation.

The tourism sector can also reopen from 15 July. That means that all holiday accommodation, including hotels, can reopen, as long as the appropriate guidance is followed.

Museums, galleries, other visitor attractions, libraries and cinemas, including drive-ins and other venues screening films, can also reopen on 15 July, although physical distancing and other safety measures will be required and for many if not most of those facilities, tickets must be secured in advance.

The childcare sector can also fully reopen from next Wednesday—I know that that is important to families across Scotland.

I can also confirm that, from 15 July, hairdressers can reopen, subject to enhanced hygiene measures being in place. The finalised guidance for hairdressers will be published this week.

Finally, I am pleased that we are able to bring forward two changes that we were previously keeping under review for later in phase 3 but now judge can be undertaken safely next week, provided that necessary mitigations are in place.

After careful consideration, we have decided that, from 15 July, places of worship can reopen for communal prayer, congregational services and contemplation. However, numbers will be strictly limited, 2m physical distancing will be required, and there will be a requirement to collect the contact details and time of attendance of those who enter a place of worship. Unfortunately, given what we know of transmission risks, singing and chanting will be restricted.

Detailed guidance is being finalised in consultation with our faith communities, but I hope that today’s announcement will be welcomed by all those for whom faith and worship is important and a source of comfort.

In addition, and linked to that change, we will ease restrictions on attendance at services and ceremonies for funerals, weddings and civil partnerships. However, numbers will be even more limited than for worship generally and physical distancing will be required. I stress that that change applies only to services. Associated gatherings, such as wakes or receptions, must continue to follow the limits on household gatherings and hospitality.

I am acutely aware that the restrictions that we have had to place on attendance at funerals in these past few months have been particularly hard to bear and I am very grateful to everyone who has complied, in what I know will have been heartbreaking circumstances. Although the changes that come into effect next week will not allow full-scale gatherings, I hope that they will allow more people to find solace at a time of grief, as well as allowing more people to celebrate happier occasions, such as weddings and civil partnerships.

The next set of changes will take effect from 22 July. At that time, personal retail services that have not yet been able to reopen—for example, beauticians and nail salons—will be able to reopen with enhanced hygiene measures in place.

Universities and colleges can implement a phased return to on-campus learning as part of a blended model with remote teaching. Motorcycle instruction and theory and hazard tests can also resume from that date. However, driving lessons and tests in cars will, unfortunately, have to wait a bit longer.

Unfortunately, there are other activities that are included in phase 3 of the route map that we are not yet able to attach a firm and specific date to. However, although we will keep these under review and, as we have done with communal worship, will bring dates forward wherever possible, it should be assumed at this stage that those further activities will not restart before 31 July. Those activities include the reopening of non-essential offices and call centres, the resumption of outdoor live events and the reopening of indoor entertainment venues such as theatres, music venues and bingo halls. They also include the opening of indoor gyms and the resumption of non-professional adult outdoor contact sports.

We will continue to work closely with relevant sectors on the reopening of all those activities as soon as possible. For example, we will work with the outdoor events sector to review the range of events that could take place, as we recognise that a one-size-fits-all approach might not be appropriate. However, I hope that it will be appreciated—as difficult as it is—that a number of those activities present particular challenges. Although I know that it is difficult, it will take a bit more time to work through how those can be safely addressed.

I also want to indicate that our current expectation is that phase 3 may well last longer than three weeks. Given the scale of the changes that we are making in phase 3, it might be wise not to rush them or go into phase 4 too quickly. However, we will keep that under close review.

Let me reiterate that it is our ambition and intention that schools will return full time in August. That is dependent on the virus continuing to be suppressed to very low levels, and it is therefore one of the reasons that we are being so careful and cautious in everything else that we do right now.

There is no doubt that today’s statement marks the most significant milestone yet in Scotland’s emergence from lockdown, and I hope that the measures that we have announced or confirmed today are welcome. All of them depend on us keeping the virus under control. Eliminating it as far as we possibly can now, ahead of what I am afraid to say are the almost inevitable challenges that we will face come winter, remains our objective. We will not hesitate to reimpose restrictions if we consider it necessary to halt the spread of the virus and save lives. I will make a further statement to the Parliament on 30 July, and will deliver regular updates through the regular media briefings between now and then.

I end by stressing the point that I made at the outset, which is, perhaps, the most important one of all. This is undoubtedly a time for cautious hope and optimism. There is no doubt that Scotland, through our collective efforts, has made great progress in tackling Covid. We should all savour our first indoor meetings and meals with friends, our first pint in a pub or catch-up over coffee. I know that many of us are looking forward to our first non-amateur haircut in many months. There will be other milestones and reunions that we will enjoy during the next few weeks. They have all been hard earned by each and every one of us. However, I have a duty to be crystal clear with the country that this is also a time of real danger. Next week represents the most substantial easing of lockdown so far, and we know that meeting people indoors poses far greater risks than going to a park or to someone’s garden.

We see signs of resurgence in many countries across the world and we must all be aware of that in everything that we do. We must remember that Covid, although at very low levels in Scotland, is still out there. Everything that we learn about this still new virus—its infectiousness, ability to kill and potential to do long-term damage to health—should warn us that we mess with it at our peril. Therefore, perhaps more than ever, now is a time for great caution. Remember that life should still not feel entirely normal and that at all times, especially when we are meeting indoors with people in other households, we must constantly be alert to the steps that we need to take to deny the virus the chance to spread.

That is why the most important things that everyone must remember and abide by are the FACTS. They are as follows.

Face coverings should be worn in enclosed spaces such as on public transport, in shops and anywhere else that physical distancing is more difficult.

Avoid, literally like the plague, crowded places indoors or outdoors.

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

Two-metre distancing remains the clear and important advice.

Self-isolate and book a test immediately if you have symptoms of Covid.

The symptoms to be aware of are a new cough, a fever, or a loss of or change in the senses of taste or smell. People can book a test at nhsinform.scot or by phoning 0800 028 2816. I ask them, please, to act immediately and to err on the side of caution. If they have any reason at all to worry that they might have Covid symptoms, they should get tested straight away.

It is only because of our collective action—our love for and solidarity with each other—that we have made so much progress. Now is not the time to drop our guard. Let us all keep doing the right things to keep ourselves safe, protect others and save lives.