FM Nicola Sturgeon, Clinical Director Jason Leitch and Scotland’s Chief Constable Iain Livingstone.
By Paul O’Hare for BBC Scotland and Bill Heaney for The Democrat
Chief Constable Iain Livingstone warned people thinking about joining protests over the death of George Floyd in the US that they should not attend mass gatherings which pose a “clear risk” of spreading coronavirus.
The chief constable also says the police will take “very robust action” if people decide to hold house parties.
And Nicola Sturgeon “strongly” advises people to wear face coverings in shops and on public transport, even though it is not currently mandatory.
Professor Jason Leitch warned that says they are simply another layer of protection, but that social distancing and good hand hygiene remain paramount in the battle against the virus.
Remember to wash your hands regularly throughout the day with soap and water.
“There is no one thing that will fix this virus, it is layer upon layer, upon layer,” the national clinical director said.
He added: “As we gradually ease out of lockdown, there will be situations when social distancing is not so easy, on public transport for example and that’s when a face covering will come in handy.”
Meanwhile, the number of fines issued by Police Scotland to people who flouted the Covid-19 restrictions plummeted by 56% last week.
The figures, the first to be published since Scotland moved into phase one of lockdown easing, also saw the weekly number of arrests fall from 30 to 11.
The statistics reveal 110 fixed penalty notices were handed out compared to 252 the previous week. This brings the total since the measures were introduced to 3,213.
Fines start at £30, doubling to £60 if they are not paid within 28 days. Repeat offenders can face penalties of up to £960.
But the update, for week ending 3 June, revealed the number of individuals dispersed using “reasonable force” doubled from 18 to 36.
Major increases were also recorded in the number “dispersed when instructed”, which soared from 654 to 2,107, while the number “dispersed when informed” increased by 13% to 4,357.
Key points from today’s Scottish government briefing are that there have been 14 more deaths from Covid-19 in the past 24 hours, bringing the total by that measure to 2,409.
It is the first time since 30 March there have been fewer than 1,000 patients (995) in hospital with confirmed or suspected cases.
One-fifth of Scottish businesses closed because of lockdown restrictions and 750,000 people were furloughed.
FM Nicola Sturgeon said the economy might not return to pre-crisis levels “for a number of years”.
Meeting people from other households indoors is not allowed, the first minister reiterated.
The FM then took questions from journalists.
Does FM expect Scotland to be an independent country by 2023, she was asked by a reporter from Dundee.
He said: “The Courier wonders whether, in light of warnings that Scotland’s economy might not return to pre-coronavirus levels until 2023, the first minister expects Scotland to be an independent country by then.”
Nicola Sturgeon said she thinks everyone knows that she wants Scotland to become an independent country as soon as possible, but her focus is on tackling coronavirus, not constitutional issues.
She added: “Whether Scotland becomes an independent country is not just down to me, it is down to the majority of the people of Scotland.
“I hope we will get back to having these healthy debates sooner rather than later, but my focus as first minister is to tackle, deal with and defeat the biggest threat to our health and prosperity that we have faced in our lifetimes.”
The Bonnie Banks – police will keep the peace this weekend. Picture by Bill Heaney
The Herald asks if there will be an increased police presence in areas popular with visitors such as Loch Lomondside and Glencoe after last weekend’s scenes and wanted to know about plans for policing at any anti-racism demonstrations.
“Visibility, a preventative profile and a preventative presence, has been right at the heart of our approach since day one,” was the reply from Chief Constable Iain Livingstone, who explained that local commanders will know how best to deal with transgressors their own areas.
On the policing of Black Lives Matter gatherings, the chief constable said it was important that people had the right to protest, but that it must be done in a safe manner and asked organiser and people who intended to attend in person to consider alternative, online options.
These guidelines were already in place and included a ban on people taking part in large gatherings. The two metre rule would still be in force.
The FM told reporters that no country is immune from racism, but swiftly added that if anyone was thinking about taking part in a protest over the weekend to do so safely and within the social distancing guidelines.
The Scotsman asked about concerns – raised by Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the EIS, Scotland’s largest teaching union, that disadvantaged children are disproportionately impacted by the new model of ‘blended learning’ proposed when schools return in August.
Their reporter asked: “Can the first minister reassure them they won’t face a life-long deficit in learning as a consequence of this pandemic?”
Ms Sturgeon replied: “I will do everything I can, and my government will do everything it can, to make sure you don’t pay a price for what you’ve lived through over the past few months.
“I recognise the disproportionate impact on young people living in more difficult, vulnerable or deprived circumstances and will leave no stone unturned in trying to ensure any impact suffered is not greater as a result.”
A reporter from The Scottish Sun asked if Scotland risks lagging behind England when it comes to an economic recovery.
The FM however stressed that it should not be viewed as a competition, saying: “I’m just trying to do things at a pace I think is right, that allows us to suppress the virus and open up the economy, but not risking another peak of the virus which takes us all back to square one. This will be a challenge for quite some time to come.”
Wear a face covering – not a medical mask – when in a shop or on public transport.
People should wear face coverings in public places now, urged Ms Sturgeon. The announcement by the UK government that passengers on public transport in England must wear a face covering from 15 June, did not change the process being considered by the Scottish government.
She added: “Just because it is not legally mandatory, does not detract from the advice to wear a face covering – not a medical mask – when in a shop or on public transport.
“It’s one thing we can all do for the protection of each other,” she says. “My strong advice is to do it now. Don’t wait for a decision on whether it is to become legally mandatory.”
Chief constable Iain Livingstone agreed that there could be a “potential difficulty” around enforcement of the face masks advice, but added the police’s approach would continue to be to explain and encourage people to follow the guidance.
He likened it to the ban on smoking on public places, which he says worked through “peer pressure and community compliance – “I would expect people would comply because they know it is the right thing to do.”
So far as the 14-day quarantine for people entering Scotland through airports is concerned, the regulations will be published “over the weekend into Monday”.
The approach must fit with Scotland’s criminal justice system, without “putting undue pressure on police”, she added.
Chief Constable Livingston referred to it a “challenging issue”, explaining that he thought it would be public health-led with police taking “a backstop role”.
Mr Livingstone said that last weekend the police dispersed over 2,000 groups who were breaking lockdown measures and non-coronavirus-related crime returned to something approaching “business as usual”, with over 1,000 arrests.
Police on patrol in Luss, which put up “we are closed” notices.
Despite the weather forecast not being as good this weekend, the chief constable reminds people not to travel to busy places, and not to hold gatherings inside.
He added: “Do not hold house parties if the rain comes on. Don’t have your friends round. Police Scotland will take very robust action.”
National clinical director Jason Leitch said: “The more people you come into contact with, the more likely you are to catch and spread the virus.
“The only way we can return to a normal way of life is by sticking to the rules
“Meeting up outdoors should be in groups no larger than eight and smaller gatherings are safer.”
Large gatherings such as the George Floyd protests being planned were not the way to – “Don’t attend mass gatherings which risk spread of virus.”
Chief Constable Livingstone said there was a “precious bond of trust” between the police and communities, a relationship he says has gone from “strength to strength” during the coronavirus pandemic.
He added that policing would rightly be subject to robust scrutiny and challenge, and welcomed the fact that open, direct conversation “is vital to democracy and fairness”.
He said he was “shocked and distressed” by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and subsequent events in the United States and understood the desire of people in Scotland to make their voices heard.
“Please do this in a way that does not risk spreading coronavirus,” he pleaded.
The chief constable said he had been in touch with organisers of several planned events this weekend to try to help them do that in a safe manner – “People should not attend mass gatherings which pose a clear risk. People should not attend mass gatherings which pose a clear risk. Please find a safe way to have your voice heard.”
The FM made a special plea to young people to respect the advice they had been given.
They were not immune to the virus – “Please do not take risks or you could end up regretting and possibly grieving. If you start to feel your social life is returning to normal, that’s not a good sign.
Meanwhile reporters have been skirting around asking details about an exercise carried out in Scotland in 2018 which looked at how the country might deal with a coronavirus-type outbreak.
There was said to be an “unease” among NHS staff over personal protective equipment – and officials drew up a list of “action points” including feasibility work on community testing and contact tracing.
This “table top exercise” focused on Scotland’s readiness to respond to an outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (Mers) – a coronavirus which has a higher fatality rate than Covid-19 but which is believed to be less transmissible.
The report was shared with Nervtag, a group that advises the UK government on pandemics, but was not published by the Scottish government until two days ago, after a Freedom of Information request from the BBC.
Professor Devi Sridhar, chairwoman of public health at Edinburgh University and a member of the Scottish Government COVID-19 Advisory Group, has said it feels like a “lost opportunity” and she is surprised the SAGE (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) didn’t discuss the report at the start of the crisis.
BBC News has learnt that a simulation of a coronavirus epidemic in Scotland two years ago highlighted potential problems – such as a lack of PPE. The findings weren’t published at the time.
The Department of Health in Westminster said readiness for emergencies was regularly tested and that allowed the government to respond to the current crisis.
Dr Faye Kirkland told Radio Scotland that the report identified a gap in the country’s preparedness for a pandemic that needed to be addressed “as soon as possible”.
Dr Kirkland said: “It simulated several scenarios of what a possible outbreak may look like and it concluded that amongst front line staff there was an unease and a lack of clarity on personal protective equipment, its availability, training around it and testing.”
The latest estimate of Scotland’s R-number is between 0.7 and 0.9, a slight fall on the previous figure.
The R-value gives an indication of the “direction of travel” of the outbreak – if it is below 1, the number of new cases is declining.
Andrew Easton, emeritus professor of virology at Warwick University, said the measure was an average – and could vary in different types of community.
He added: “If the population is more dispersed, you would expect the frequency of contacts with other potentially infectable people would be less, so the R-number for that population would be lower than in an area where there’s a high density of people where there’s more frequent contacts.”
BBC News has learnt a coronavirus epidemic, simulated by public health experts in Scotland two years ago, highlighted potential problems – such as a lack of PPE.
The exercise involved health agencies across Scotland simulating the impact of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome. The subsequent report identified an unease among front line staff and a lack of clarity about the availability of personal protective equipment and training.
It also highlighted challenges around contact tracing and community testing.
The report was not published at the time, but was made public on the Scottish government’s website two days ago.