The first minister reveals the phased return of schools as she confirms Scotland’s lockdown will be extended until at least the end of February
A phased return of pupils to classrooms in Scotland could begin from the 22nd of February, the first minister has announced.
Nicola Sturgeon revealed the news as she confirmed that the country’s COVID-19 lockdown restrictions will be extended until at least the end of February.
Ms Sturgeon said the measures were having an effect, noting that the prevalence of the virus has fallen in Scotland, but stressed that “continued caution” was required with pressure on the NHS still “severe”.
She held out the prospect of a “careful and gradual” easing of restrictions from the start of next month, if progress continues to be made, adding that she would update MSPs on a possible relaxation of measures in two weeks.
This comes after the Prime Minister has now said that he hopes it will be safe to reopen schools in England from the 8th of March, as he told MPs that he intends to set out a plan for easing lockdown restrictions in the week beginning on the 22nd of February.
On schools, the first minister told the Scottish parliament that the announcement of a phased return was “intended to give young people, parents and teachers as much notice as possible”.
But the first minister stressed the decision was “subject to continued progress in suppressing the virus and will be subject to final confirmation in two weeks’ time”.
If the return does begin on the intended date, all children under school age in early learning and childcare would return.
Pupils in Primary 1 to Primary 3 would also go back to the classroom, along with those in the senior phase of secondary school.
Ms Sturgeon said older pupils will only be allowed back to make sure practical work important to their qualifications is finished, while only between 5% and 8% of any school’s roll should be permitted to return.
The proposed return date is two weeks earlier than the date proposed by Prime Minister Boris Johnson for the reopening of schools in England.
Ms Sturgeon said the return of pupils would be supported by an expansion of testing, with older pupils and anyone working in schools or childcare settings routinely tested twice a week.
“We are determined to get our children back to normal schooling just as quickly as it is safe to do so. It is our overriding priority,” the first minister said.
Ms Sturgeon also announced that a “managed quarantine” system will be introduced for all arrivals into Scotland, regardless of where travellers have come from.
This goes further than England’s system, which sees mandatory quarantine for arrivals from more than 30 “red list countries”.
This comes after a door-to-door period of mass testing of 80,000 people in England is being implemented in order to find “every single case” of the South Africa coronavirus variant, which is reportedly more infectious than the original disease.
“The firm view of the Scottish government is that in order to minimise the risk of new strains coming into the country, managed quarantine must be much more comprehensive,” Ms Sturgeon said.
“I can therefore confirm today that we intend to introduce a managed quarantine requirement for anyone who arrives directly into Scotland, regardless of which country they have come from.”
The first minister acknowledged that she could not “unilaterally” impose such restrictions on people landing elsewhere in the UK and then travelling to Scotland.
But Ms Sturgeon expressed her hope that the UK’s other nations would work with the Scottish government to reduce the number of people doing this.