Sturgeon: No likelihood of lockdown being lifted after Easter

The First Minister says it is 'right and proper' to stick with restrictions for as 'long as is necessary'.

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Nicola Sturgeon has urged people to continue following public health guidance on social distancing over the Easter weekend.

Speaking at a virtual Q&A with Scottish political leaders, the first minister acknowledged the difficulty of the current situation but said it was “important to follow the rules and stay at home”.

“I know how hard it is for people to do that, it will seem even harder over this Easter holiday weekend, especially for families with children and indeed for the children themselves and for older people who would normally be spending time with their grandchildren,” said Sturgeon.

“Please stay in touch with family, friends and loved ones in whatever alternative way best works for you,” she added.

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The First Minister was speaking ahead of Thursday afternoon’s emergency Cobra meeting featuring the leaders of the devolved governments.

It will be chaired by Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab after UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson spent another night in hospital suffering from Covid-19.

Responding to a question from Scottish Conservative leader Jackson Carlaw, Sturgeon said she hoped the UK would emerge from the current lockdown measures in “an orderly way that protects health and is mindful of the other impacts in a unified way”.

She said: “I don’t want these measures to be in place a minute longer than they have to be but equally I don’t want us to come out of them prematurely in a way that will do damage, that will see the virus spiral out of control, see our NHS potentially overwhelmed and see more lives lost, so it is right and proper that we stick with it as long as is necessary.

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“And I want to be clear to people, because there is a lot of media speculation, there is no likelihood or prospect of these measures being lifted after the Easter weekend. COBRA is likely to meet again later next week – I certainly support that, to start to think about the exit strategy and what that might look like.

“But it is likely that restrictions and measures are going to be in place for some weeks to come yet. And again I would appeal to people to stick with this; we are not asking people to change their lives in such a fundamental way for no reason,” she added.

The First Minister also said the Scottish Government is working hard to address concerns over the availability and distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE).

More than 100 medical professionals have signed an open letter that expresses ‘grave concerns’ over the adequacy of PPE provided to them in the fight against Covid-19.

Medics say they have been given “thin plastic aprons” which cover “very little” of their bodies and surgical masks that don’t protect them from anything airborne, as well as “flimsy” eye cover which does not offer enough protection.

Sturgeon said: “The issue of PPE is of fundamental, paramount importance and we have been working hard to resolve the concerns that people have that roughly fall into the following categories: adequacy of supplies, distribution of those supplies to where they are needed, the guidance we are issuing to workers about what types of equipment they should be using, in what circumstances, and also there have been concerns raised about the quality.

“So, very briefly, we do have adequate supplies, we’re not complacent about that, there are global pressures on that supply, We have taken significant steps to improve distribution and we continue to do that, addressing glitches and concerns where they arise,” she added.

Seven more deaths of people with coronavirus in Scotland

It's the highest number of fatalities in the country since June 17, while there are 640 new cases.

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Seven more people with coronavirus have died in Scotland, the highest daily total since June 17.

It takes the death toll among patients who died within 28 days of their coronavirus test to 2519.

Separate weekly figures from National Records of Scotland show that up to Sunday, September 27, a total of 4257 deaths have been registered where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate.

That includes ten deaths last week – five in hospital, four in care homes and one in another setting.

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These weekly figures include those who died more than 28 days after testing positive for the virus, as well as those who were suspected to have it but were not tested.

Speaking at the daily Covid briefing, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “We, of course, should never think of these deaths as statistics, every single one of them represents the loss of a unique and irreplaceable individual.

“I want to send my deepest condolences to everyone who has lost a loved one, and that particularly includes those who have lost loved ones in the last few days.”

The country has confirmed 640 new Covid cases overnight, the FM added, which amounts to 10.3% of newly-tested Scots, down from 11.5% and 806 cases on Tuesday.

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Of those cases, 232 – more than a third – are in the Greater Glasgow and Clyde health board area, where a campus cluster at the University of Glasgow is ongoing.

There are 160 new infections in Lothian and 73 in Lanarkshire.

A total of 137 people around Scotland are in hospital being treated for coronavirus, which is a rise of 14 in 24 hours.

Of these patients, 14 were in intensive care, down two from the revised figure of 16 the previous day.

Sturgeon said there were 94 new hospital admissions for the virus last week – up 60% from the figure of 58 the previous week.

This means “we could not afford complacency”, she told the briefing.

New £500 grant for people on low incomes self-isolating

The scheme will launch on October 12 with the cash grants administered by councils to those in need.

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A new £500 grant to help people on low incomes who have to self-isolate will be rolled out in mid-October.

Starting from October 12, the cash will be administered by councils through the Scottish Welfare Fund, which already provides community care and emergency grants.

Speaking alongside the First Minister at Wednesday’s coronavirus briefing, social security secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville said it was “essential to act swiftly”.

Somerville said people will need to have been asked to self-isolate through Test and Protect to be eligible for grant.

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It will chiefly be targeted at those who are currently on benefits, but will allow “discretion” for the fund to be extended to those facing other types of financial hardship.

She said the decision to create the fund had been made before the Scottish Government was informed of Barnett consequential funding that would be made available due to a similar scheme run by the UK Government in England.

The social security said: “It is essential that we can act swiftly so that people who need support are able to access it.

“We continue to press the UK Government around consequential funding for the support scheme that they recently announced in England, but given the urgent need to get this scheme up and running in Scotland we have made the decision on our approach in advance of that answer.”

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Nicola Sturgeon said self-isolating is particularly difficult for Scots on low incomes.

The First Minister said she is committed to ensuring no one has to choose between self-isolating or working to be able to afford to live.

Sturgeon said: “The self-isolation support grant will help people on low incomes who will lose money as a result of self-isolation and who therefore might find it financially challenging, or in some cases even impossible, to comply unless they have support.

“The payment is important because, as I stressed yesterday, self-isolation is important.”

Worker embezzled £240k in drugs and cash from Crown Office

Katherine Vaughan also stole other items during her job as a production keeper in Aberdeen.

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Guilty plea: Katherine Vaughan appeared at the High Court in Edinburgh.

A woman has been told she faces jail after she admitted embezzling more than £90,000 in cash and taking £147,000 of drugs and other items from the Crown Office.

Katherine Vaughan appeared at the High Court in Edinburgh on Wednesday and her guilty plea was entered by her lawyer, Ximena Vengoechea.

The court heard the 34-year-old, from Aberdeen, worked as a production keeper for the Crown Office in the city when she took £91,832.82 between January 1 2011 and September 27 2019, as well as a wide range of other items.

All had been lodged during the course of criminal investigations and it was her job to keep them safe.

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Her crimes began to unfold after Crown Office administration manager Kelly Goate made plans to rotate staff to give them a broader experience.

When told of her intention to move her position on September 24 2019, it was heard Vaughan became emotional.

The court was told she then approached Ms Goate to tell her the production store had been left open at the weekend.

A police investigation was sparked when it was found that items had been tampered with and an interview was carried out with Vaughan on September 27, 2019.

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Alex Prentice QC, for the Crown, said: “At that point, Vaughan spontaneously stated that she suffered from mental health issues, that she had been stealing cash productions from the production store throughout the year to subsidise her income, and that there were further cash productions in her home address.”

It was heard subsequent searches at her Great Northern Road home saw substantial amounts of money recovered, as well as £147,720 worth of drugs and other items.

These included sanitary pads, a stun gun, cigarette ends, chewing gum, jewellery, cling film and a safe.

Mr Prentice told the court it is not clear what happened to the money she embezzled, although it is possible she “squandered” it.

It was also heard Vaughan – who has since been working at restaurant chain Nando’s – did not appear to have taken the drugs for profit or use.

The substances included crack cocaine, cocaine, MDMA and cannabis.

Ms Vengoechea asked judge Lord Beckett to adjourn the case for eight weeks to allow more time for psychiatric reports to shed light on her client’s mental health, however only four weeks were given.

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The judge told Vaughan: “You have pled guilty to extremely serious criminal conduct, the court does not know the whole background.

“But whatever that background, this amounts to extremely serious criminal conduct.

“Given the gravity of this case and the inevitable prison sentence, I don’t consider it appropriate to continue bail and you will be remanded in custody.”

The case is due to recall on October 28 at the same court.


Hundreds of jobs at risk as TSB set to close 73 branches

The Spanish-owned bank said the cuts follow a 'significant change in customer behaviour'.

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TSB: The bank intends to close 73 branches in Scotland.

TSB is set to close 73 branches in Scotland, affecting 300 jobs.

The Spanish-owned bank said the cuts follow a “significant change in customer behaviour” as fewer people use branches in favour of online banking.

It stated it created 100 new IT roles earlier this year at its tech hub in Edinburgh to meet the “soaring demand” for its digital services.

On Wednesday, the company announced it was shutting 164 branches across the UK, reducing its overall headcount by around 900.

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As well as the branch network, those working in the mortgages and customer service operations teams are also affected.

The bank said it expects most of the redundancies to be voluntary, but did not rule out forcing staff out.

Branches earmarked for closure have been selected to ensure “94% of TSB customers in Scotland remain within 20 minutes travel time of a branch”.

The company previously said it intended to reduce the size of its branch network, but has now accelerated plans amid the pandemic.

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It said its branch network will be the third largest in Scotland after the closures, and seventh across the UK.

It will leave the bank with 290 branches across the UK, more than halving its store estate over the past seven years.

Over the next two years, TSB said it will “continue to invest in its 62 remaining Scottish branches”.

Around 50 mobile advisors in rural communities will also be introduced to “deliver face-to-face support” for existing TSB customers.

Robin Bulloch, customer banking director at TSB, said: “These decisions are the most difficult we take, but we must always be guided by our customers – and we are clearly witnessing a substantial shift towards digital banking.

“We operate a more extensive branch network than most other banks in Scotland, including some much larger than TSB, and we need to reduce its size to reflect the changing needs of our customers and a fast-evolving operational environment.

“TSB remains committed to offering high quality banking services in branches across Scotland. We are also introducing mobile advisers to ensure we look after vulnerable customers and those in rural locations.

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“We are working to ensure the transition towards digital – which is being seen right across the economy – is handled sensitively and pragmatically for our colleagues and customers.”


Early at-home abortions could be a permanent service

During the pandemic, women have been able to take both pills required for an early medical abortion at home.

Coronavirus: Early medical abortions could become a permanent service.

Early abortions at home could become a permanent service once coronavirus is no longer a threat.

During the pandemic, women have been able to take both pills required for an early medical abortion at home, where it is considered clinically appropriate.

A wide range of views – including women who have had the treatment – are being sought through a consultation on making the current arrangements permanent.

Early medical abortions at home will remain in place as long as the virus remains a risk.

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Public health minister Joe FitzPatrick said: “All women in Scotland should have access to clinically safe abortion services, within the limits of the law, should they require this.

“The current arrangements were put in place to minimise the risk of transmission of Covid-19 and ensure continued access to abortion services, without delays, during this pandemic.

“This consultation will allow us to gather as much evidence as possible to help inform future arrangements.”


Soldiers parachuted into power lines during bungled jump

The duo's parachutes got caught in the cables during a night-time training mission over Cupar in Fife last month.

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High-voltage: Two soldiers parachuted into power lines during a training mission.

Two soldiers cheated death when their parachutes got caught in high-voltage power lines during a bungled jump.

The duo collided with the cables during a night-time training mission over Cupar in Fife last month.

Fortunately the pair escaped uninjured, but briefly wiped out the electricity supply to around 480 nearby homes.

ScottishPower said it was alerted to two failures on the network within the space of an hour at around 10pm on August 31, which were “restored within a matter of seconds”.

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The incident happened on the outskirts of the town, around seven miles from the military base at Leuchars.

A spokesperson from the MoD said: “We are aware of an accident in the Cupar area involving military personnel last month.

“No personnel were injured. As an investigation is ongoing it would be inappropriate to offer additional comment.”


Focus shifts to flu as vaccination queues begin to form

This year those over 55 and frontline social care workers will also be offered the flu vaccination.

As the battle against Covid continues in to flu season, there is a growing worry of what might happen when the two viruses combine.

This year anyone over 55 along with frontline social care workers will be offered the flu vaccination in the bid to protect more people during the pandemic.

In Dundee, health workers are some of the first to get the flu jab. 

Peter Stonebridge, the medical director at NHS Tayside, said: “Obviously flu in itself is not very nice and actually has a significant detrimental affect on people and the second is obviously if you get flu and covid at the same time that might not go particularly well. 

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“It is very important that we stop as much of the flu aspects that we possibly can while we await a covid vaccine.”

Covid has been the focus for most of the NHS for months with another rise in Cases in recent weeks bringing fears it could be accelerated further if more people aren’t protected.

The Scottish Government insist there will be enough flu vaccine to last the season, but GP’s say that some will have to wait.

“We’re getting the most vulnerable done first, so for example we’ll be setting off to do our patients in care homes very shortly, but you are someone who is 55 and in good health and would not normally get the flu jab but this year we are recommending that you do, you will wait a little bit longer,” said Dr Alasdair Forbes of the Royal College of GPs Scotland.

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But a shortage globally might mean those paying privately may miss out – Boots has already suspended its online bookings.

Experts here will no doubt be looking at what has been happening during flu seasons in other parts of the world. 

In Australia where flu hits between around April and October there have been just over 21,000 lab confirmed cases so far this year – by this time in 2019 it was just under 290,000 cases

In other southern hemisphere countries like South Africa there have also be reports of far fewer cases.

That is because social distancing and lockdowns have been in place making it hard for all viruses, not just Covid to spread.


Shell to slash up to 9000 jobs after collapse in demand

The oil giant said the cuts will be fully implemented by the end of 2022.

Shell: Plans to cut thousands of jobs.

Shell has said it plans to cut between 7000 and 9000 jobs worldwide following a collapse in demand for oil amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The oil giant has said the cuts will be fully implemented by the end of 2022.

The company also told investors this includes around 1500 employees who have agreed to take voluntary redundancy this year.

Shell said the job cuts are part of a major cost-cutting programme after the business was hit by the slump in demand for oil and a subsequent dive in prices.

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Ben van Beurden, chief executive of Royal Dutch Shell, said: “We have to be a simpler, more streamlined, more competitive organisation that is more nimble and able to respond to customers.

“To be more nimble, we have to remove a certain amount of organisational complexity.”

He said the company is looking at a raft of other areas where it can cut costs, such as travel, its use of contractors and virtual working.

Mr Van Beurden said the pandemic has shown the company it can adapt to working in new ways but stressed that “a large part of the cost saving for Shell will come from having fewer people”.

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In June, rival BP said it was cutting around 10,000 jobs from its workforce to cope with the impact of the virus.

Shell said it expects that cost-cutting measures will secure annual cost savings of between two billion dollars and $2.5bn (£1.5bn-£1.9bn) by 2022.

This will also partially contribute to a previously announced reduction in the company’s operating costs by $3bn to $4bn (£2.3bn-£3.1bn) by the first quarter of 2021.

Shell also told investors on Wednesday that it expects third-quarter production to be between 2.15 million and 2.25 million barrels of oil equivalent a day.

Daily production levels have been impacted by between 60,000 and 70,000 barrels due to hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico.

For the past 50 years, Shell have been a dominant force in the North Sea with a workforce of around 1,500 in Aberdeen.

As one of the largest oil and gas operators, it’s presence has been a prominent one in the sector

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Around 39% of all oil and gas sector jobs in the UK are in Scotland.

The Shearwater platform, which Shell calls it’s jewel in the crown of the Central North Sea, produces thousands of barrels a day alongside other platforms.


Tackling Edinburgh housing crisis crucial to reducing poverty

Report says one in three families in the city living below the poverty line are only in that position due to their housing costs.

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More than 77,000 Edinburgh residents live in poverty.

The “single most important” part of reducing poverty in Edinburgh is tackling the housing crisis, according to a new report.

The Edinburgh Poverty Commission (EPC) released their report on Wednesday, which found that almost one in three families in the city living below the poverty line are only in that position due to their housing costs.

This compares with one in eight households who are in poverty across the country as a whole.

More than 77,000 Edinburgh residents live in poverty – about 15% of the total population, including one in every five children.

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Dr James McCormick, chairman of the EPC, said that the housing crisis was a “distinctively Edinburgh challenge, because so many families are only dragged below the poverty line by an unaffordable rent”.

He added that a big chunk of the city’s poverty issues could be solved if the housing profile was expanded.

The report called for 20,000 more affordable homes to be built in Edinburgh over the next decade.

Dr McCormick, who is also associate director for Scotland at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said: “If you’re working you should not be poor – it’s as simple as that.

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“The single most important part is solving Edinburgh’s housing crisis.”

However, Dr McCormick believes that private landlords also have a part to play, saying: “People are being housed in quite high cost private rented accommodation.

“What’s really helpful is when some of those homes are brought into the private leasing pool for the city, so landlords get a three-year deal they get security of income and some degree of predictability about costs.

“The private rented sector has a crucial long-term role to play in the city.

“What we’re saying is too many families are there long term when they can’t afford to be.

“They’re constrained not through choice, and so if people can move over time into lower cost tenancies that goers a very long way to bring down housing costs sustainably.

“The other thing it does importantly is it improves work incentives.

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“If you’re facing a very expensive rent and the jobs available to you are minimum wage or just above, then even with universal credit improving tapers, it will often not be worth your while taking that job, when you factor in child care costs.

“So secure tenancies, lower rents are good, not just for housing, but for work.”

Dr McCormick said that he would be against exploring rent control in the city, saying: “I think we’re not persuaded by the case for some of the things that have been tried in other counties because they tend to have a detrimental effect if we’re not careful on supply of housing.”

Cammy Day, Labour depute leader of Edinburgh City Council, added that the council had also been pushing for regulation on short term let, Air BnB style accommodation in the city.

He said: “It’s an absolute disgrace that on an average day in Edinburgh we’ve got 500 people in temporary accommodation yet hundreds of houses lying empty for probably 75% of the year, only being used for Festival times.”

He added that the council had been pushing the government for rent pressure zones to be brought in, to “curtail some of the ridiculous rents in the capital city”.

However, Mr Day added: “It’s not proven successful entirely yet but I hope we’re still on that path, to get as many tools the city can to stop rogue landlords and stop high private rents being the reason why somebody can’t have a safe and warm family home to live in.”

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