New measures to drive down infection rate

Further measures to protect the population from the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) have been announced by the First Minister today (Tuesday 22nd September) as Scotland faces an upsurge in cases.

The new restrictions focus on no household visits and a 10pm closing time for all hospitality settings.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said that this action is necessary in order to prevent a resurgence in community transmission of the virus and the potential for a rapid return to the pressures the NHS experienced earlier in the year.

Measures include:

Inside people’s homes (from tomorrow, Wednesday 23 September 2020)

  • Do not meet people from any other households in your home or another person’s home socially, unless they are in your extended household
  • These rules also apply to children
  • Children whose parents do not live in the same household can move between homes, as can non-cohabiting couples
  • Very limited exemptions apply for childcare, and for tradespeople

Private gardens or public outdoors spaces (from tomorrow, Wednesday 23 September 2020)

  • A maximum of six people from two households can meet in outdoor spaces
  • You should limit as far as possible the total number of households you meet in a day
  • Under-12s do not count towards the maximum number of households or number of people who can meet outdoors. Under-12s do not have to physically distance
  • A maximum of six 12 to 17 year olds can meet in outdoor spaces, with no household limit. Physical distancing is still required

Indoors in public spaces (from tomorrow, Wednesday September 23 2020)

  • A maximum of six people from two households can meet in public indoor spaces such as cafes, pubs and restaurants
  • Children under 12 from those two households do not count towards the limits

Hospitality (from 00:01 Friday 25 September 2020)

  • Pubs, restaurants and all hospitality settings will be required to close at 10pm
  • Table service will continue to be required in all hospitality premises

Car sharing

  • You should only car share with members of your own, or extended, household, and follow guidance when there is no alternative

Working

  • You must continue to work from home where practicable.

These restrictions will be reviewed within three weeks and further guidance will made available where necessary.

Action – and adherence to restrictions – is needed now to safeguard lives, protect from infection and bring the R number down below one.

_______________________________________________________________________

First Minister’s Speech – 22nd September 2020

I will update the chamber on additional restrictions that the Scottish Government believes are necessary to get Covid back under control as we enter winter.

I will also set out why these measures are essential, and the principles and priorities that have guided our decisions. First, though, I will provide a summary of today’s statistics. Since yesterday, an additional 383 cases of Covid 19 have been confirmed. That represents 7.6& of the people newly tested, and takes the total number of cases to 25,009.

A total of 73 patients are currently in hospital with confirmed Covid 19, which is the same as yesterday. And 10 people are in intensive care which is 2 more than yesterday.

I am also sorry to report that in the past 24 hours, one further death has been registered of a patient who had tested positive for the virus. The total number of deaths in Scotland under that measurement is therefore now 2,506.

That reminds us of the impact of Covid. These deaths are not just statistics they are of real people whose loss is a source of heartbreak. My condolences go to everyone who has lost a loved one to this illness.

Today’s figures reflect the course the virus has taken in recent weeks. In mid-July, we were recording an average of 9 new cases a day. Around 4 weeks later, that had risen to an average of 52 cases a day. Three weeks after that, it was 102. Today it is 285. We have also seen an increase in the percentage of tests coming back positive.

In late August, that percentage was consistently below 1%. Today it is over 7%.

The R number is also above 1 again, possibly as high as 1.4. Now it is worth stressing that this growth in cases because of the collective sacrifices we all made to drive infection levels down over the summer is from a low base. It is also, at this stage, far less rapid than in March.

But it is rising, faster than we can be comfortable with. We cannot let it continue unchecked. And while in recent weeks, the biggest number of new cases has been in people under the age of 40, we now see an increase amongst the older population too.

And unsurprisingly, in light of that, hospital and intensive care admissions and also deaths are starting to rise too. All of this underlines what, for me, is a key point, We cannot be complacent about Covid. It kills too many old and vulnerable people. And for younger, healthier people, while the risks of dying from it are much lower though not non-existent it can still result in long term, serious health problems.

That’s why action to bring it back under control is necessary and to bring the R number down again, the action we take now must go beyond the step we announced almost two weeks ago to restrict indoor and outdoor gatherings to 6 people from 2 households.

Over the weekend and in the course of yesterday the Scottish Government considered a range of options. On Saturday, I h ad a discussion with other devolved administrations, and I spoke to the Prime Minister yesterday.

I also took part in this morning’s COBR meeting. At that meeting, all four governments committed to suppressing the virus to the lowest possible level and keeping it there. Following on from that meeting, measures to control the virus were agreed at Cabinet.

I can confirm that we will introduce measures on hospitality similar to those outlined for England by the Prime Minister a short while ago and thereby align as far as possible with the rest of the U.K. However, the advice given to the Cabinet by the Chief Medical Officer and the National Clinical Director is that this on its own will not be sufficient to bring the R number down. They stress that we must act, not just quickly and decisively, but also on a scale significant enough to have an impact on the spread of the virus.

And they advise that we must take account of the fact that household interaction is a key driver of transmission. To that end, we intend as Northern Ireland did yesterday to also introduce nationwide additional restrictions on household gatherings, similar to those already in place in the West of Scotland. I will say more about these measures shortly. Full details will also be published on the Scottish Government’s website.

But first let me be clear about the priorities that have guided our decisions. And it is essential that we think in terms of priorities. Faced with a global pandemic of an infectious and dangerous virus, it is not possible to do everything and to live our lives completely normally. No country is able to do that just now. So instead we have to decide what matters most and make trade-offs elsewhere to make those things possible.

Of course, the most important priority is saving lives and protecting health. But there are other priorities too.

Firstly, we are determined to keep schools open and young people in education. That is vital to the health, wellbeing and future prospects of every young person in the country.

Second, we must restart as many previously paused NHS services as possible, so that more people can get the non COVID treatment they need. Our NHS must be equipped this winter to care for those who have COVID and it will be. But it must be there for people with heart disease, cancer and other illnesses too

And, third, we must protect people’s jobs and livelihoods that means keeping businesses open and trading as normally as is feasible.

To achieve all of that, we must stop the virus from spiralling out of control and we can only do that if we accept restrictions in other aspects of our lives.

The more positive news is that because we did drive the virus down to low levels over the summer, and because we now have Test Protect in place and functioning well, the restrictions can be more targeted than earlier in the year.

The measures I am announcing today are tough I will not pretend otherwise but they do not represent a full scale lockdown of the kind imposed in March. Indeed, today’s measures are an attempt to avoid another lockdown.

I also want to address talk in recent days about restrictions being needed for six months or more. It is certainly the case, until scientific developments such as a vaccine change the game in the battle against COVID, it will have an impact on our lives. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that all of the new restrictions I am announcing today will be in place for six months. By acting early and substantially, our hope is that these new measures will be in place for a shorter period than would be the case if we waited longer to act.

In the first instance, we will review them in 3 weeks although given the nature of this virus, they may be needed for longer than that.

So let me set out the package of measures we hope can bring Covid back under control. I will focus first on those areas where we intend to reinforce existing guidance and provide better support for compliance.

Firstly, everyone who can work from home, should work from home. That has been the Scottish Government advice throughout, but we are reinforcing it today. To employers, if you have encouraged workers back to the office who could be working from home, please rethink that. We know not everyone wants to work from home and it does have an impact on our town and city centres but with the virus on the rise again, home working limits the numbers of people on public transport and gathering together for lengthy periods indoors. That is why it is important. We want employers to comply with this advice voluntarily as the vast majority do. But if necessary we will put a legal duty on businesses to allow home working where possible.

Second, we intend in the coming days, through media and social media, to reinforce the central importance of the FACTS advice – face coverings, avoiding crowded places, cleaning hands and hard surfaces, keeping two metre distance and self-isolating and boo king a test if you have symptoms.

At the start of the pandemic, compliance with basic hygiene measures was very strong. That makes a difference and it is just as important now as it was then. So, I am asking everyone to make a conscious and renewed effort to comply with all of this advice.

And third and related to the last point we will introduce a package of support for people who are asked to self-isolate. Self-isolation of people with symptoms awaiting a test, people who test positive and household and other close contacts of such people is essential to breaking the chains of transmission.

But we know self-isolation is hard. It asks a lot of people and, for some, the financial implications make it even more difficult. So we intend, firstly, to raise awareness of the importance of self-isolation and what it entails. Ensuring that people fully understand why we are asking them to do difficult things is the first step to ensuring compliance.

Next, we are working with local authorities to ensure that when someone is asked by Test Protect to self-isolate, they will be contacted proactively and offered essential practical support for example help with delivery of food and other essentials.

And, most importantly, we will introduce financial support of £500 for those on low incomes. More detail of this scheme will be published shortly.

As I said yesterday, we will keep issues of enforcement for noncompliance with self-isolation under review. However, our judgment at this stage particularly given the spirit of solidarity that is so essential in our fight against this virus is that supporting people to do the right thing is more effective than threatening harsh punishment if they can’t.

Presiding Officer, let me now turn to the new restrictions that are necessary to bring the virus back under control.

First, as I indicated earlier, we will introduce a strict nationwide curfew for pubs, bars and restaurants. From Friday, pubs, bars and restaurants will be required to close at 10pm.

Now, people sometimes ask me why we don’t just close pubs again altogether and I can understand that. The answer to be frank is that we are seeking to find a balance between action to suppress the virus and the protection of people’s jobs and livelihoods.

If the Scottish Government had greater powers to borrow money, or the ability to extend the Job Retention Scheme, for example, it is possible that we would reach a different balance of judgment on some of these issues. But we don’t. So this decision today means we can reduce the amount of time people are able to spend in licensed premises, thereby curtailing the spread of the virus, while still allowing businesses to trade and provide jobs. This is the best balance for now.

However, I want to be clear with the hospitality trade about this. Notwithstanding the economic implications, further restrictions, including possible closure, will be unavoidable locally or nationally if the rules within pubs and restaurants on hygiene, face coverings, table service, maximum numbers in groups, and the distance between them are not fully complied with. I want to thank those businesses that are making huge efforts to ensure compliance.

However, to ensure this is the case for all, we will be providing resources for additional Environmental Health Officers and asking local authorities to significantly step up inspection and enforcement.

Let me turn now to the most difficult part of today’s announcement further restrictions on household gatherings. We know from the data available to us through Test Protect that a high proportion of new cases come from social interactions between different households in our homes

We also know from Test Protect and from our own experiences that it is much more difficult to maintain physical distance and have, for example, good ventilation inside our own homes. We also know that when the virus infects one person in a household it is highly likely to affect others in the same household. It will also infect people visiting that household, who will in turn take it back to their households.

Therefore, difficult though it is, any serious effort to reduce the R number below 1 must take account of this key driver of transmission and seek to break it. So after careful consideration, we have decided that from tomorrow, to be reviewed after three weeks, and with exceptions that I will come on to, visiting other households will not be permitted.

To be clear, this extends the restriction that has been in place across the West of Scotland for the last three weeks to all of Scotland. Regulations giving effect to this change will come into force on Friday, but I am asking people to comply from tomorrow. One of the reasons we have decided to do this is that our early data suggests this restriction is starting to slow the increase of cases in the West of Scotland.

 So if we extend it nationwide now, in an early and preventative way, we hope it will help to bring the R number down and the virus back under control.

There will be exceptions for those living alone, or alone with children, who form extended households; for couples in non-cohabiting relationships; for the provision of informal childcare by, for example, grandparents; and for tradespeople.

Those new restrictions apply to people’s homes in other words, to private indoor spaces. Rules for meeting other people in public indoor spaces that are subject to strict regulation and guidance, remain the same you can meet with one other household only and in groups of no more than 6 people. As I said earlier, we will be working with local authorities to strengthen inspection and enforcement in indoor public places and enforcement action, including closure if necessary, will be taken against shops, pubs, restaurants or other premises that do not ensure compliance.

You can also continue to meet with one other household in groups of up to 6 outdoors, including in private gardens. Outdoors, though, we intend to exempt children under 12 both from the limit of 6 and the limit of two households.

There will be no limits on the ability of children under 12 to play together outdoors. And young people aged 12 to 18 will be exempt from the two-household limit they will be able to meet outdoors in groups of up to 6, though we will need to monitor this carefully.

And let me say to teenagers in particular I know how miserable this is for you and you have been so patient. We are trying to give you as much flexibility as we can. In return, please work with us and do your best to stick to the rules, for everyone’s sake.

Presiding Officer, the last new restriction I want to cover today relates to travelling by car. We know, again from Test Protect data, that sharing car journeys presents a significant risk of transmission. We are therefore advising against car sharing with people outside your own household.

Finally, it is also important that I indicate today, in light of the current situation, that the routemap changes with an indicative date of 5 October are unlikely to go ahead on that timescale.

Presiding Officer, I want now to touch briefly on an issue that has been the subject of media speculation in recent days namely the possibility of a so-called circuit breaker, timed to coincide with the October school break, and during which people would be given much more comprehensive advice to stay at home.

The Scottish Government has not made any decision at this stage to implement such a policy however, we are actively keeping it under review. What I would say to people now is this:

Please think of the October break as an opportunity to further limit social interaction. And, given that this is a global pandemic, please do not book travel overseas for the October break if it is not essential.

Finally, let me say a few words to people who were shielding earlier in the year I know you will be feeling particularly anxious. However the best way to keep you safe is by reducing the spread of the virus in our communities which is what today’s measures are all about.

The steps I have outlined today will help keep you safe, so please follow the guidance for the general population with great care. And if you haven’t signed up for our text alert service, please do so. Fundamentally, I want to assure you that your safe ty is uppermost in our minds. But we do not believe that asking you to return to shielding is the best way to secure it, given the impact it would have on your mental and physical health. In our view, all of us acting together to reduce the spread of the virus is a better way to keep you safe.

Presiding Officer, these are the changes we are making now. I can’t rule out the need to make more nationally or locally in the weeks to come. Indeed, we intend to publish soon an overall strategic approach to escalation in areas with particularly high rates of transmission. However, I am acutely aware that the restrictions I have announced today will not be welcome. But in our judgment they are absolutely essential. Inevitably, some will think they go too far and others that they don’t go far enough.

But we have tried to get the balance right and to act urgently and in a substantial and preventative way now to try to get the situation under control quickly. We judge that this will give us the best chance of avoiding tougher or longer lasting measures later. But I know that doesn’t make this any easier. Many people, me included, will find not being able to have family and friends in our own homes really difficult especially as the weather gets colder.

But today’s measures although tough are not a lockdown.

They are carefully targeted at key sources of transmission. And we believe they can make a significant difference, while keeping our schools, public services and as many businesses as possible open However the success of these measures depends on all of us. The decisions that we all make as individuals in the weeks ahead, will determine whether they work, and how quickly they can be lifted.

That fact isn’t just a reminder of the responsibilities we all owe to each other it is also a reminder that we are not powerless against this virus.

None of us can guarantee that we won’t get Covid, or pass it on. But we can all make choices which significantly reduce our own risk, and help to keep our communities safer.

So please, make those choices. Stick with this.

Please don’t meet people in their homes or your home because that is where the virus often spreads. Limit how often you meet up with people in public places and abide by the rules in force there.

Work from home if you can.

Follow the advice on self-isolation if you have symptoms, test positive, or are a contact of someone who has the virus.

Download the Protect Scotland app.

And when you do meet other people, remember FACTS at all times. Face coverings in enclosed spaces. Avoid crowded places. C lean your hands and hard surfaces. Keep 2 metre distance from other households. And self isolate and book a test if you have symptoms.

Keeping to all these rules isn’t easy but they remain the best way for all of us to protect ourselves, each other, the NHS and ultimately save lives.

Presiding Officer, all of this is incredibly tough and six months on it only gets tougher. But we should never forget that humanity has come through even bigger challenges than this and it did so without the benefits of modern technology that allow us to stay connected while physically apart.

And though it doesn’t feel like this now, this pandemic will pass. It won’t last forever and one day, hopefully soon, we will be looking back on it, not living through it. So though we are all struggling with this and believe me, we all are let’s pull together.

Let’s keep going, try to keep smiling, keep hoping and keep looking out for each other. Be strong, be kind and let’s continue to act out of love and solidarity. I will never be able to thank all of you enough for the sacrifices you have made so far. And I am sorry to have to ask for more.

But if we stick with it and stick together I do know we will get through this.

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