NICOLA Sturgeon will today launch a Scottish volunteer programme to help the NHS and other services in the national battle against coronavirus.

The First Minister said the Scotland Cares initiative would lead to the creation of a database of Community Reserve Volunteers.

A similar NHS volunteer scheme launched by Prime Minister Boris Johnson south of the Border has already been paused after 750,000 people signed up within days.

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Ms Sturgeon revealed the plan at her daily briefing on the crisis, as she confirmed the number of deaths in Scotland had risen by one to 41.

The number of positive cases was up 139 to 1,384, with 95 in intensive care.

She said: “As ever, the best way to support the NHS is for all of us to follow the rules and stay at home as much as possible.

“But I know there are many people who are currently fit and healthy and who are perhaps no longer for the time being at work or at university, and are looking for other ways to help.

“So we will be launching a new campaign called Scotland Cares which will encourage people to volunteer if they’re in a position to do so, and make it easier for them to register their interest.”

She said returning health and care service workers would be directed to the arrangements currently in place in NHS Scotland. 

If people wanted to volunteer “more generally to help the NHS or the wider response effort”, the website would also tell people about becoming a Community Reserve Volunteer.

She said the Red Cross would co-ordinate Community Reserve Volunteers across the country.

Volunteer Scotland would also flag up volunteering opportunities through existing schemes. 

She said: “This means people will be able to contribute in a way which makes a real difference in their local community. It will help people help each other as we all seek to get through this together.”

The scheme, which will be promoted on TV and radio, will also advise people on how to lend a hand to neighbours and family safely through the outbreak.

Cabinet Secretary for Social Security and Older People Shirley-Anne Somerville added: “The Scottish Government is working closely with local government and a range of partners to co-ordinate the volunteering effort across Scotland.

“By providing this national portal we will be able to connect people to where their contribution is most needed in their local community, ensuring everyone can play their part in helping Scotland come through this pandemic.

“For some, that may involve roles responding to specific needs in health and social care. For others, it may be that we draw on their skills, enthusiasm and energy in the weeks and months to come.”

Addressing concerns about adequate supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) for frontline NHS and car staff, the First Minister said 34 million items of PPE had been delivered to hospitals for Covid-19 and other patients over the last four to six weeks.

She said that starting today, eight weeks’ worth of PPE would also be delivered to GP surgeries this week.

Extra staff would be employed to meet demand for the items in the social care sector, including more delivery drivers working longer hours.

All health boards would also have a single point of contact for managing supplies and distribution.

Scotland is currently conducting around 800 Covid-19 tests per day, but Ms Sturgeon said plans were afoot to increase this to 3,000 per day, with a new laboratory in Glasgow hoped to increase capacity further still.

Ms Sturgeon said new Scottish Government emergency legislation to prevent anyone being evicted from the private and social renting sectors would be published tomorrow and was expected to be passed by a reduced sitting of Holyrood on Wednesday.

Chief Medical Officer Catherine Calderwood said “more stringent measures” may need to be put in place if the current lockdown does not reduce the impact of coronavirus.

She said when the “suppression measures” were started just over one week ago “the numbers of cases in Scotland was doubling every three to four days”.

She added: “Within two to three weeks of the measures being put in place, we should if the measures are working be able to see a reduction in that doubling time so that the numbers of cases are not increasing as quickly.”

However, she stressed the restrictions on daily life  would merely be reviewed in around three weeks and possibly adjusted. They would not end overnight and could last until  June.

Dr Calderwood also confirmed the Scottish Exhibition Centre in Glasgow was being considered as a new hospital facility but would not technically be a “field hospital”, as that was defined as a mobile hospital run by the army.

She said the patients who might be treated in the SEC had not been agreed.

In some countries, overflow facilities are being used to treat non-Covid-19 patients to relieve the pressure on hospitals and intensive care.

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Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard said: “We have seen Scotland at its best in recent weeks as communities have come together to support our public services and people in need, and we welcome the creation of a volunteer force.

“We welcome the provision of PPE in the health service but health and social care workers should have been supplied with this from the off.”

Scottish Green MSP Alison Johnstone added: “It is vital that the Scottish Government ensures the staff who are going the extra mile for us all, have the necessary equipment readily available to allow them to do their jobs safely.”