Partial school return set to be announced as ‘progress’ being made in lockdown

The return of some school pupils in Scotland is set to be announced, as top adviser Professor Jason Leitch claims “progress” is being made against the coronavirus.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon will update MSPs on Tuesday on changes decided by the Cabinet to the current restrictions in Scotland, which was forced into lockdown earlier this month.

National clinical director Prof Leitch told the BBC his recommendation to ministers is that younger children can return, although he is reluctant to say older pupils – who will be working towards qualifications – can do the same.

“We’re heading in the right direction,” he said.

“I can break the secret – you definitely won’t see all of lockdown lifted, but there is progress and therefore you’ve got to think, as public health advisers, what is the first thing you should do?

“The most important thing is children.

“That’s what we’ve trailed in the last few weeks that, if we can, we will get some kids back to school.”

Prof Leitch added that, although it looks as though some pupils will return, schools will not go back to normal.

“You’ve heard the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister talk about ‘priority groups’ – the very small kids for whom the wellbeing of schools, the collective nature of schools and early learning centres are so important for development, and we agree.”

Asked about the possibility of older children returning, Prof Leitch said: “It gets more difficult at that end for a couple of reasons.

“The principal reason is that older kids behave like adults in relation to the virus, so they can spread the virus and the new variant spreads proportionately more easily even in that group. So we’ve got to be cautious.”

He added: “But, we don’t want kids not to get qualifications.”

Vaccine being administered
Vaccine being administered

Prof Leitch was also questioned about the situation around vaccinations in Scotland.

Ministers have been accused of being too slow over the vaccination rollout in recent days, with opposition politicians saying the rest of the UK is moving faster.

On Sunday, just 9,628 vaccinations were completed.

Prof Leitch said “Sundays are a little bit tricky” and that the vaccination team has been asked to “have a look at that”.

He added that the reason for the drop on Sunday was because of where the jabs are being administered, with most being delivered in GP practices which “didn’t all work (on) Sunday”.

“We decided to do the over-80s in their own practices, where they would know their nurses, where they would know their GPs, where they would be close to home,” he said.

Prof Leitch agreed that the rollout needs to be done faster, and said it will ramp up as those aged between 70 and 79 would be given jabs in large part at the newly opened mass vaccination centres in Aberdeen and Edinburgh, as well as the NHS Louisa Jordan in Glasgow, which has been administering the vaccines since December.