Schools return for some, but lockdown continues: What you need to know

Douglas Barrie, PA Scotland

Some school pupils across Scotland will return to their classrooms next week – but the country’s current state of lockdown in the coronavirus pandemic is set to continue.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon addressed the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday with the latest update about what will happen next in the fight against Covid-19.

Coronavirus graphic
(PA Graphics)

Do we know when the current lockdown restrictions will be lifted?

Not at the moment.

Ms Sturgeon told MSPs: “The core stay at home requirement will remain in place until at least the beginning of March – and possibly for a further period beyond that.”

She highlighted that in the first week of January, “an average of more than 2,300 new cases a day were being recorded in Scotland” whereas the most recent figure is 810.

The progress was described as “a significant and sustained fall”, with Ms Sturgeon stating: “Lockdown is working.”

So what was announced?

Pupils in primaries 1-3 – children between the ages of four and eight – will return to classrooms from Monday – along with a limited number of senior secondary pupils who need access to school for essential practical work.

Under the current guidance, physical distancing is still essential for everyone except children under 12 with the First Minister saying “senior secondary pupils will be required to observe two-metre physical distancing while in school, and on school transport, in the period immediately after the return”.

She also warned there will be a “need to properly assess the impact of this limited re-opening”. Therefore it is unlikely there will be any further return to school before March 15.

Ms Sturgeon added: “Please don’t use it as an opportunity to meet up with other parents or friends.

“The hard, but inescapable fact is this: if the return to school leads to more contacts between adults over the next few weeks, transmission of the virus will quickly rise again.”

Why are school pupils the focus?

Ms Sturgeon said: “In a world where we can’t do everything immediately, we will need to decide what matters most.

“That’s why you will hear me talk increasingly about trade-offs.

“We are choosing to use the very limited headroom we have right now to get at least some children back to school – because children’s education and wellbeing is such a priority.

“But being able to get children back to education may mean the rest of us living with some other restrictions for longer.

“That is a trade-off we need to be willing to make.”

Nicola Sturgeon
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon in the Scottish Parliament (Andrew Milligan/PA)

What other trade-offs did she mention?

The First Minister urged caution in a bid to keep Scotland moving in the right direction and avoid any further setbacks, with holidays being mentioned as something “we don’t think will be possible for a while longer”.

She said: “We are likely to advise against booking Easter holidays, either overseas or within Scotland, as it is highly unlikely that we will have been able to fully open hotels or self-catering accommodation by then.

“For the summer, while it is still highly unlikely that overseas holidays will be possible or advisable, staycations might be – but this will depend on the data nearer the time.

“However, 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 one later in the year.

“And that means, for now, all of us continuing to abide by the stay at home requirement.”

When is the next update?

Between her statement on Tuesday and the next review date in two weeks’ time, Ms Sturgeon said the Scottish Government will publish a new strategic framework which will indicate a route back to “greater normality for all of us”.

Again it will prioritise education, but will then be “followed by greater family contact and the phased re-opening of the economy, probably with non-essential retail starting to open first”, as has happened when previous restrictions were lifted.

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