CORONA VIRUS: FIRST MINISTER’S QUESTION TIME

Nicola Sturgeon, Iain Livingstone and Jason Leitch.

By Bill Heaney

A further 24 people who tested positive for Covid-19 have died, taking the total to 2,245 deaths in Scotland, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said today.

She added – and looked pleased about it – that more than 100,000 people have viewed the Scottish government’s online document on the easing of lockdown measures, which was published only yesterday.

A much asked question facing her had been about what the rules would be on visiting parents?

Ms Sturgeon had been setting out guidelines about how people would be able to meet up when lockdown starts easing.

She said they would be able to meet up with more than one other household – but only one at a time – when phase one begins.

Ms Sturgeon said though that people would be asked to “stay fairly local” – with a five-mile limit as a guide – to avoid crowds at tourist hotspots.

The five miles was a suggestion, not a rule, and if people could make the round trip to see their parents in a day, for example, that would be fine.

But they could not stay overnight and it would not be a good idea to go inside the house to go to the bathroom, for example.

On testing for the virus, she said, Scotland was “very close” to reaching its capacity for 15,500 tests a day.

There were 660 of the targeted 2,000 contact tracers in place with “around 750” at various stages of the appointment and training process.

Unfortunately, two out of almost 300 prisoners released early had since re-offended, confirmed Chief Constable Iain Livingstone.

PA Media asked how many early-release prisoners had been arrested or charged since they had been released as part of measures to help stop the virus spreading.

Chief Constable Livingstone said that, as of yesterday, almost 300 individuals been released early and that “there have only been two who have come to our notice for re-offending”.

“So there have been instances of re-offending, but they have been very low given the numbers involved,” he added.

“The release of offenders was never without risk, and we have been working very closely with the Scottish Prison Service, the third sector and other agencies to provide support for people and their families.”

The range of Scotland’s R number was still between 0.7 and 1.0, said Ms Sturgeon, who speculated that the infection rate could still be higher than the rest of the UK.

Answering a raft of varied questions from reporters, the FM said Ikea stores in Scotland are to remain closed, while the company has said 19 stores across England and Northern Ireland will reopen.

The partial reopening would begin from 1 June and social distancing wardens will patrol stores to help shoppers and ensure they keep their distance.

But families would be banned, with Ikea saying it would allow one adult and one child per household inside the store at any one point.

The UK government is to give details this afternoon of how people arriving in Britain will have to go into quarantine.

Anyone failing to isolate for two weeks could face a fine of up to £1,000, and the measures could come into force at the beginning of June.

There would be a Scottish stamp on them though. The government had been involved in the discussions and Scotland would introduce its own regulations.

The Clap for Carers founder has suggested an end to the weekly celebration to thank frontline NHS staff.

Annemarie Plas, cited as the person who helped start the weekly clap for carers initiative in the UK, suggested next Thursday’s celebration should be the last.

Speaking on Radio Two’s Jeremy Vine show, she said: “Next week will be the tenth time and I think that that would be a beautiful end to the series.

“Perhaps then we move to maybe an annual moment, because I also feel the mood slowly shifting and other opinions start to rise to the surface. I feel like this has had its moment and after that we can continue to something else.”

Scottish schoolchildren are set to return to classrooms in August using a “blended model”.

But what does that mean, one reporter wanted to know.

This will involve a mix of ordinary classroom learning, online learning and homework. But how will this work in practice?  Pupils will still have to sit next to each other at a work station.

The path is still not clear for pupils to return to school in August, a parents’ association has warned.

It said a “blended learning” approach – where children split time between home and in-school learning – would “fall to bits” if employers and parents were not on board.

This comes as the EIS teachers’ union warned that schools would need time to prepare for August’s reopening.

The Scottish government said it would get schools back only as early as was safe.

The range of the R number is still between 0.7 and 1.0 said Nicola Sturgeon, who believes that the infection rate could still be higher than the rest of the UK but says “we don’t have absolute certainty on that”.

“It has been below one for three weeks,” she adds, explaining that all of the other supplementary factors are also reducing and that is what is behind the easing of lockdown next week.

“I still think it would have been wrong to make these decisions two weeks ago,” she said. ‘Ultimately it is going to take people doing the right thing’

Vivienne Aitken from The Daily Record asks how could mass gatherings in public places – such as the crowds that flocked to Edinburgh’s Portobello beach on Wednesday – be prevented when restrictions are eased?

The FM said she felt “a bit frustrated” when she saw the pictures, not because she didn’t understand why people wanted to go to the beach on the hottest day of the year so far, but because she didn’t want progress to be put in jeopardy.

“We just need to take so much care or we will end up back in lockdown for much longer and more people will die,” she said.

Ms Sturgeon added that the government would set out the rational basis for what it was doing and provide guidance, but “ultimately it is going to take people doing the right thing, and trying not to do the wrong thing.”

“We will all get it wrong at times but this is all about protecting ourselves and our loved ones,” she added.

Chief Constable Livingstone admitted” it was concerning” seeing the “surge of people” at Portobello, but the police chief judged “very few people were there maliciously or deliberately flouting regulations”.

How is a contact defined, one reporter asked?

The FM said more information would be set out closer to the time when the test and protect strategy is rolled out across Scotland.

Somebody that’s been within 2m for 15 minutes or more is currently the definition of a contact, she added. “It won’t be just people you randomly pass in the street

It was made clear there would be police checks on the length of trips for leisure and no patrol cars flagging people down on motorways to ask them where they were headed.

Chief Constable Livingstone reckoned that would be “disproportionate” and “excessively intrusive”, adding that it would harm what are generally good relations with the public and saying that the vast majority have adapted well to the lockdown restrictions.

The first minister is asked by the Financial Times if her four-stage plan will work to completion without a vaccine or herd immunity.

“I don’t know for sure,” replied Ms Sturgeon, who said that if a vaccine or effective treatments are found then the whole process would be speeded up.

Clinical Director Prof Jason Leitch added that there are over 200 vaccine trials going on right now across the world, with three of those going to phase two and one in near phase three – human trials.

He explained that early trials “usually fail” but was heartened by the global collaboration shown so far.

Prof Leitch said the “treatment gives me slightly more hope” since there are so many trials going on right now.

The aim at the moment, he explained was to suppress the virus to such a low level that tracing and stopping outbreaks would be enough to advise the decision makers to do things differently.

Donald Trump, Boris Johnston and Nicola Sturgeon.

Severin Carrell from The Guardian newspaper asked about the news just in that Boris Johnson could be visiting Donald Trump next week.

Asked what advice she thought the PM should give President Trump, the first minister says she wished the US president would be “just a little bit more responsible” in the things he says about coronavirus – “It is so important that leaders give clear advice and messages to people and that we try to base it on the best knowledge, science and information that we’ve got.”

She added: “As we move gradually from a situation that has strict rules into a more flexible phase, I’m going to be saying ‘please use good judgement’ more often.”

The FM promised to set out “as much detail as we can” before next Thursday’s changes come into play to give people a “sense of parameter” but stressed the government cannot legislate for every set of individual circumstances.

Lockdown had already demonstrated that the public will act responsibly, added the first minister. “If your parents live in Inverness and you live in Glasgow, it’s not a case of me telling you not to go, it’s about saying what it practically requires to visit them might mean you putting your parents at risk. I have confidence people will do the right thing.”

PA Media also asked what happens to pupils whose parents have to be at work when schools re-open on 11 August, at a stage when children still won’t be allowed in other relatives’ homes?

The FM said the Scottish government was trying to give parents as much clarity as possible, and would communicate with them directly over the summer, once the details of the “new model of learning” had been worked out.

We want to increase the amount of access to hubs that key workers and vulnerable children have already been able to access, she said, so that more children of key workers, or those who have no other options, are able to access that support.

“None of this is going to be easy in the weeks and months to come, there is no point me trying to pretend otherwise,” added Ms Sturgeon.

“But we have worked our way through a lot of difficulties in the last three months and shown we can do things we never believed we could do.”

Scott McNab, from The Scotsman, asked about the new normal we’ll be going into after lockdown. Will the public sector implement a four-day week?

The first minister says she hopes the public sector will “show leadership” on issues such as this. Flexible working was going to be more important than ever.

“We’re still going to be asking people where possible to work from home, as we move through different phases,” she added.

“We also need to think are there opportunities in here to just change the old ways of doing things and do things better,” the First Minister added.


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