NICOLA Sturgeon has warned that re-opening schools for all pupils as is expected to be announced in England “would send transmissions through the roof again very quickly”.
Boris Johnson is set to announce that in-person schooling for all pupils in England will begin on March 8 – while from today, pupils in P1 to P3 in Scotland and some older secondary pupils who need to carry out practical work have returned to classrooms.
The Scottish Government will review any impact on the partial re-opening of schools before opening up educational institutions any further, but not before March 15.
The First Minister was asked at her daily coronavirus briefing why her Government has not followed what is expected to be announced by the Prime Minister in England and let all school pupils return to classrooms.
Cautious approach to ensure ‘this is Scotland’s last lockdown’
Ms Sturgeon said: “I think if we were to do that right now, we would send transmission through the roof again very quickly because of all the interactions.
“That’s not about fear of transmission inside schools as much as the overall interactions that would spark in the wider population.”
She added: “We think what we are doing today, a couple weeks earlier than any return in England – but on a very carefully, cautious basis, allows us to make the start to that progress – it allows us to assess just what the impact of it will be, and hopefully it means that later in March, not before the 15th but hopefully from then on, we can start to see more children go back to school.
“If we do this in a way that sends the virus out of control again then what we’ll be facing is all schools being shut again and even the kids we’ve got back today, not being in school.”
The First Minister warned that a strategy of “sustainability” is key, stressing that with the R number in Scotland estimated to be between 0.7 and 0.9, the situation “gives us very limited head room” to allow people to come into contact.
She added: “Hopefully, what will happen over the next two to three weeks is cases will come down further because the rest of us stick to lockdown, vaccination rates go up and we become more confident about the impact on transmission on vaccination, we become confident that he partial return to school hasn’t had a really negative impact on transmission, so we will feel confident then about getting the next tranche of kids back to school.
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“I think that is the more sensible and more sustainable way of trying to do this in a way that’s going to stick. That after a year of this misery, that’s really the important thing – getting us out of this lockdown in a way that sticks and doesn’t have us go back into lockdown.”
Chief medical officer, Dr Gregor Smith, said he was “absolutely delighted that these kids have gone back into school today”.
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He added: “We know that whenever schools return, it is not so much the impact the schools have but actually how the rest of population behaves beyond that.
“As soon as children are back in school, it allows the rest of the population just a little bit more freedom to act and the possibility, if we’re not careful, that they create more opportunities for the virus to transmit between them.
“That’s why it is really important that we take a cautious and sustainable approach to the return of schools just now. Over the next three weeks, we will be tracking very, very carefully exactly what happens with transmission – are infections changing at all and if so, where are infections changing, how are we seeing the locust of cases where people have been coming together.
“At that point in time we will be able to make a decision as to whether the modelling that we have so very carefully examined in the lead-up to this return, is exactly tracking up as we would expect.”