By Bill Heaney
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon expressed sympathy and offered condolences to the relatives and friends of the Scots who have died in the corona virus pandemic.
She told the Holyrood parliament: “I can confirm that, as of 9 o’clock this morning, there have been 584 confirmed cases, which is an increase of 85 from yesterday.
“As always, I make it clear that those numbers will be an underestimate. It is with sadness that I can also report that there have been two more deaths of patients who had tested positive for Covid-19, taking the total number of deaths in Scotland to 16.
“I extend my condolences to all those who have lost loved ones, and I again thank our national health service staff who continue to care for people suffering from the virus.”
She added: “As everyone knows, last night we announced significant new measures to slow the spread of Covid-19. I will quickly reiterate what those are, because I want people across Scotland to be very clear about what is now expected of us all.
“In effect, Scotland is now in lockdown. People had already been told that they must stay at home. We have now set more stringent limits to that. The only permissible reasons for people leaving their homes are: to shop for basic necessities, but only once a day, at the most; to take exercise—again, that should be done no more than once a day—which people should do alone or with their household, not in groups; for personal medical reasons or to provide care to or support for a vulnerable person; or to travel to essential work, if that work absolutely cannot be done from home.
“All social events are now banned, and public gatherings of two or more people—excluding households, or for essential work-related purposes—are also prohibited. Communal places such as libraries and playgrounds must close. Places of worship should also close, other than for funerals, which—I am deeply sorry to say—must be restricted to immediate family.
“I know that there have been questions about families who live apart. Children under 18 can continue to move between households but, in doing so, they should take hygiene and social distancing precautions.
“I also want to confirm that people who have caring responsibilities, or who work in care, should continue to carry out those responsibilities. Again, they should follow social distancing measures as much as possible and hand hygiene at all times.
“The overall message is very clear: people must stay at home. I know how hard that is for everybody, but people should not be meeting friends and they should not be meeting family members who live outside their home. As I have said previously, for all of us, life should not be feeling normal. If it does feel normal for someone, that person is almost certainly not sticking to the rules that we are asking people to abide by.
“I am confident that the vast majority of people will comply with the rules, and I thank everyone in advance for doing that. However, later this week the emergency legislation that Parliament will discuss shortly will give us powers of enforcement. I want to be very clear that we will use those powers, if necessary.”
She added: “It is clear that some categories of business have already been told to close. On Friday, those included pubs, restaurants, cafes, cinemas and gyms. Yesterday, we published a list of essential and non-essential retail. Non-essential retail premises are now required to close, and shopping for basic necessities should be kept to a minimum.
“That list is being updated to include other forms of establishments and those that are critical for civil contingencies. In particular, it is important that key strategic sites, which are vital to economic resilience and which cannot easily be shut down—such as the steelworks at Dalzell—can continue to work so long as they can maintain the minimum number of required staff and the social distancing requirements.
“However, I am aware that many businesses out there do not neatly fit into any of those categories, such as manufacturers and food producers. The advice for those businesses—based on the precautionary principle, given that our priority is the protection of health—is broadly as follows. First, they should allow their staff to work from home if they can do so. Secondly, if their staff cannot work from home, they should ask themselves whether their business is contributing something that is essential to the fight against coronavirus—for example, by making medical supplies or manufacturing essential items—or to the wellbeing of the nation, such as food supplies.
“We want businesses that are doing so to keep going, if possible, but they must ask themselves whether they can operate their business in line with safe social distancing practice and their normal health and safety requirements. If they cannot answer yes to those questions, in our view they should not continue to be open.
“We have been asked specifically about construction sites in Scotland. Our current advice, on the basis of the precautionary principle, is that we expect them to be closed, unless the building that is being worked on is essential, such as a hospital.
“We know that some people, such as self-employed gardeners and window cleaners, do not have contact with other people; we would encourage them to go about their business if they can do so safely, as that can be good for the community. Many people are looking to volunteer and help out in their communities; advice on how to do so safely is available on http://www.readyscotland.org.
“It will of course continue to be vital that local authorities put in place arrangements for the children of key workers and vulnerable children. The teachers and other education staff who provide that service are themselves key workers. I want to thank those who have followed the advice so far and, in particular, all the parents who are now looking after their children at home, and the teachers and early years’ workers who are caring for vulnerable children and those of key workers. We will have indicative numbers on attendance later today; initial reports show that the vast majority of parents are not seeking to send their children to school.”
The First Minister said: “The measures that have been announced in recent days—from the school closures last week to last night’s lockdown—are really difficult for every individual, business and organisation around the country. The reason that we are taking such truly unprecedented measures is that the challenge that we face is unprecedented. As I have said before, this is by far the biggest challenge that our country has faced in our lifetimes, so the measures that we take to deal with it and mitigate its impact must reflect its magnitude.
“The changes that we are asking people to make to their lives—difficult though they are—are absolutely essential. They are essential to help us to slow down the spread of the virus as much as we can; to reduce its peak impact; to avoid our NHS becoming overwhelmed, so that it can continue to provide treatment to all those who need it; and to save lives.
“The daily reality that we face is quite stark. If we all comply with the measures, many fewer of us will die of the virus than would otherwise be the case. That will mean that many more of us will come out the other side of this and, perhaps more quickly than otherwise, we can resume the lifestyles that we have for so long cherished and taken for granted.
“For now, I hope that we all show solidarity for one another, even as we stay apart, by staying in touch with those we care about and by helping one another as best we can. However, collectively, as a Parliament, I want us to be crystal clear that staying at home has become the only way of slowing the spread of the virus, of giving our NHS a chance to cope and of saving lives. Right now, that must be the priority of each and every one of us.”