There could be “careful and gradual easing” of restrictions in March.
Scotland’s First Minister has announced that the national lockdown will be extended until the end of February, however some children will be able to return to school later this month. Speaking to Holyrood this afternoon, Nicola Sturgeon said the level of Covid-19 infections “clearly remains too high” therefore the lockdown will go beyond mid-February.
She said the average daily case numbers have more than halved in the last three weeks and that this progress is down to compliance with the lockdown restrictions. The First Minister said the situation still remained fragile and “that means that if we were to ease restrictions too quickly, there is a real risk that infections would rise again very quickly.”
During her announcement, the First Minister stated that there would be a phased return to school for some pupils from February 22. This will see early learning and childcare for all children below school age to return full time, as well as pupils in primary school levels 1 to 3. In addition, senior phase pupils will make a part-time return, on a very limited basis, to allow them to complete national qualification courses.
With the return to schools anticipated towards the end of this month, the First Minister said those who work in schools, and in early learning and childcare settings attached to schools, will be offered at home testing twice a week. All senior phase secondary school students will be offered this too. Nicola Sturgeon said this testing offer will be in place for schools as soon as possible to help support their return, and it will be extended it to the wider childcare sector in March.
While lockdown restrictions will stay in place until at least the end of February, the First Minister has said she is “cautiously optimistic” that as more people are vaccinated and additional measures are considered, the government will consider a “careful and gradual easing” of restrictions towards the start of March. The First Minister said there will be another update on the lockdown situation, and confirming whether the return to school for some pupil will go ahead, in two weeks’ time.
Despite agreeing terms with other UK nations regarding travellers coming into the UK from countries with a travel ban in place and being required to quarantine in hotels, Nicola Sturgeon said she intends to go further than the UK quarantine rules. She said she plans to introduce a “managed quarantine requirement” for anyone who arrives directly into Scotland, regardless of which country they have come from.
The First Minister reported: “To date, there have been five cases of the new South African variant identified in Scotland. However, all of these have links to travel which means that there is no evidence so far of community transmission of that variant. ”
There will also be further expansion of testing in Scotland, according to the First Minister. The regular testing of healthcare workers will soon cover primary care workers in patient facing roles such as GPs, dentists, optometrists, and pharmacists. From mid February, regular testing will also be available to all staff who work directly with patients in hospices, as well as other other health settings, such as addiction and mental health services. Plus, there will be an expansion of targeted community testing for emergency service control rooms and NHS24.
In terms of the vaccine roll-out, the First Minister has said 610,778 people have now received the first dose of the coronavirus vaccine, including 98% of all care home residents.