Nicola Sturgeon confirmed next week’s return to school for some youngsters is to go ahead – but warned Scots not to see the move as a return to normality.
Pupils in P1 to P3 will be back in their classrooms from Monday, along with some senior students needing to do practical work for qualifications – with the First Minister promising a £100 million package to help “accelerate school recovery”.
Senior pupils will also need to stick to two-metre social distancing within schools and on school buses, while Covid-19 testing will be made available to them and teachers.
Local authorities and schools will receive an additional £40 million to help them make theses changes, as part of the wider £100 million package.
But Ms Sturgeon stressed the need to “properly assess” the impact of the start of the phased return to schools meant it was “unlikely” that any more youngsters would get to go back before March 15.
She was also cautious about holidays, telling people the government was “likely to advise against booking Easter holidays” either overseas or within Scotland, as it was “highly unlikely” that hotels and self-catering accommodation will have been able to open up by then.
For the summer, she said holidays in Scotland “might be” possible – although foreign travel was still “highly unlikely” to be permitted.
Overall she insisted that lockdown “has been working” with a slowing down of the virus – with the latest daily figures showing 773 more confirmed cases of Covid-19 and 49 further deaths.
But she added the situation was still “very fragile”, adding that “even a slight easing of restrictions could cause cases to start rising rapidly again”.
1,632,940 people in Scotland have been tested for #coronavirus
The total confirmed as positive has risen by 773 to 193,148
Sadly 49 more patients who tested positive have died (6,764 in total)
— Scottish Government (@scotgov) February 16, 2021
The Scottish Government is currently working on a revised framework for exiting lockdown – which could have continued into March, the First Minister warned.
This should be published next week, though Ms Sturgeon said the new, more infectious strain of Covid-19 – which is currently responsible for more than 80% of new cases – meant any easing of restrictions would most likely be “even more cautious than it was last summer”.
While she confirmed some secondary schools students and P1 to P3 youngsters, who are aged between four and eight, will return to face-to-face learning from February 22, the First Minister stressed: “Please treat Monday’s important milestone as a return to education for children only, and not as a return to greater normality for the rest of us.”
Here, she said: “The evidence suggests that the key risk in re-opening schools isn’t transmission of the virus within schools – instead, the risk comes from the increased contact the re-opening sparks amongst the wider adult population.
“The risk is that schools going back might lead to parents socialising more, at the school gates for example, or returning to the workplace rather than working from home.”
Meanwhile, Ms Sturgeon said the new framework would “use and balance all the tools at our disposal – restrictions and advice, vaccination, test and protect, and travel restrictions – to restore, on a phased basis, greater normality to our everyday lives”.
But she stressed: “If we want to keep moving in the right direction, and avoid setbacks, caution will be necessary.”
As a result the new document will “try to be clear about what we don’t think will be possible for a while longer”, Ms Sturgeon added.
“Given the risks posed by new variants of this virus, it is hard to overstate the necessity of being careful, cautious and gradual as we exit this lockdown, if we want to avoid another lockdown later in the year.
🗓 From today, everyone arriving in Scotland from outside the Common Travel Area must book and pay for managed isolation in a quarantine hotel for at least 10 days.
— Scottish Government (@scotgov) February 15, 2021
“And that means, for now, all of us continuing to abide by the stay at home requirement.”
Following this guidance was crucial “especially as children start to go back to school,” Ms Sturgeon said.
She added: “It will allow us – we hope – to keep the virus under control while we vaccinate more and more people and make our way, slowly but surely and steadily, to better and brighter days ahead.”
Asked whether there would be flexibility for composite classes with both P3 and P4 pupils, Ms Sturgeon said: “P3 children should be taught in school from Monday and remote learning should continue for P4 children, except in exceptional circumstances.”
She added: “I know that making these arrangements for P3/P4 composite classes will be really challenging, but we do encourage schools and local authorities to use sensible flexibility in how they deploy staff and deliver learning.
“Ultimately though, we’ve got to consider this question in the context of the pandemic and allowing exceptions for some P4 children routinely would increase the number of children in school and that then would potentially start to send mixed messages about which children are returning to school and compromise the safe and sustainable phased reopening that we’re seeking to achieve.”