However, the reopening of schools will go ahead on February 22.
The First Minister has announced that the lockdown in Scotland will be extended until at least the start of March, however some children will be able to return to school next week. Speaking to Holyrood this afternoon, Nicola Sturgeon said that with one limited exception, she will not be announcing any immediate changes to the lockdown restrictions.
The First Minister said the stay at home requirement will stay in place until ‘at least’ the beginning of March and ‘possibly a further period beyond that’. She reported that after six weeks of lockdown the levels of infection in Scotland have fallen to those recorded in early December last year, therefore the lockdown will go beyond the end of February.
Nicola Sturgeon said: “I will signal when and how we hope to give an indication of the criteria for beginning our exit from lockdown, and the order in which we will be aiming to do so when the time is right.” The First Minister then went onto announce that the youngest school pupils (P1 to P3 and those at pre-school) will return to school on February 22 and a ‘phased and gradual return’ to school will begin in two weeks time. In addition, senior phase pupils will make a part-time return, on a very limited basis, to allow them to complete national qualification courses.
She added: “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.”
The First Minister told Holyrood that the Scottish government will need to monitor the impact of this change to restrictions very carefully before taking any further decisions. However, the First Minister said she hopes that they they can set out the second phase of school re-opening in two weeks’ time. This lifting of restrictions was described by the First Minister as “a milestone for children only” and she expressed concerns regarding parents socialising and returning to the workplace after this return.
Nicola Sturgeon said: “I want to be clear, though, that the need to properly assess the impact of this limited re-opening means we think it unlikely, at this stage, that there will be any further return to school before 15 March. As we consider these issues, we are of course doing everything we can to ensure that schools are as safe as possible for children, and for the education workforce.”
The Scottish government has reported seeing signs of cases falling more slowly now than they were a few weeks ago, reaching similar levels of infection to those at the start of December. The First Minister said: “A key factor here may be that the new, more infectious, variant of the virus is accounting for an increasing proportion of all new cases – as of now, it is responsible for more than 80% of new cases. All of that means that our situation is still very fragile. I know that is frustrating and can seem counter-intuitive.”
The First Minister has also announced that teachers and lecturers involved in awarding national qualifications this year will receive a one-off payment of £400. At-home covid-19 tests are to be made available to senior pupils, teachers and school staff as part of a ‘wider package of in-school mitigations’. Plus, two-metre distancing for returning senior school pupils while in school and on school transport, in the period immediately after the return.
As well as confirming the return to school for some pupils, Nicola Sturgeon said the government advises against booking Easter holidays, either overseas or within Scotland. This is due to the high unlikelihood of hotels and self-accommodation being fully open by then. However, she went on to say: “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.”
The Scottish Government is expected to publish their updated strategic framework next week explaining how Scotland will exit from lockdown. The framework will make education the top priority, followed by greater family contact, such as care home visits, and the phased re-opening of the economy, probably with non essential retail starting to open first.
In terms of the vaccine roll-out, the First Minister has said 1,288,004 people have now received the first dose of the coronavirus vaccine, including virtually all residents in older people’s care homes.
You can find the guidance on schools reopening here.