Full lockdown as schools closed and Scots told to stay at home

The First Minister confirmed the move in a statement to Holyrood after recalling the Scottish Parliament on Monday.

Mainland Scotland and Skye will be put into a full “stay at home” lockdown from midnight following a surge in coronavirus cases, Nicola Sturgeon has announced.

Scots will be legally required to stay at home throughout January except for essential circumstances and schools will remain closed to the majority of pupils until at least February 1.

The First Minister said the new restrictions will be similar to those imposed in March last year.

Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles will remain in level three, which allows more shops, pubs and restaurants to open.

Sturgeon confirmed the move in a statement to Holyrood after recalling the Scottish Parliament on Monday.

The announcement was broadly supported by opposition parties, however questions were raised about the impact on pupils’ educations.

It comes as the whole of mainland Scotland and Skye are already under the toughest tier of restrictions in response to a new strain of Covid-19.

The First Minister previously warned it may be up to 70% more transmissible than the old variant and could increase the R number by 0.4.

Speaking on Monday, Sturgeon told MSPs: “The advice of our clinical advisers is clear that the increased transmissibility of the new variant means that the current level four measures may not be sufficient to bring the R number back below one.

“It is essential that we further limit interaction between different households to stem the spread and bring the situation back under control, while we vaccinate more people.

“In short, we must return for a period to a situation much closer to the lockdown of last March.”

The Scottish Government had already announced that schools would remain closed until January 11, with ministers having originally planned for remote learning until January 18.

Announcing the extension, Sturgeon confirmed that schools will remain open to the children of key workers who cannot work from home, and for vulnerable youngsters.

All other pupils will face an additional two weeks of home learning.

Those who are shielding have been told not to go into work.

Sturgeon said: “If you were shielding and you cannot work from home, our clear advice now is that you should not go into work at all.

“The chief medical officer is writing to everyone who falls into this category, and his letter will count as a fit note for those who need it.”

Unlike the lockdown in March, no restrictions will be put on outdoor exercise.

However, the rules around outdoor gatherings for those aged 12 and over will change to only allow two people from two different households to meet.

From Friday, places of worship will close to the public except for weddings or civil partnerships – limited to five people – or funerals, which will be restricted to 20 mourners. Wakes have been banned.

Ski centres, clinics offering cosmetic and aesthetic procedures and showrooms for larger retailers will have to close under a tightening of premises designated as essential retail.

The First Minister warned that the new lockdown could last longer than initially intended.

She said that the changes would be kept “under review”, but added: “However, I cannot at this stage rule out keeping them in place longer, nor making further changes. Nothing about this is easy.”

The First Minister also revealed that a further 1905 cases of coronavirus had been recorded in Scotland over the past 24 hours.

The daily test positivity rate is now at 15% – down from 15.2% on Sunday.

Since the start of the outbreak, a total of 136,498 people have tested positive for the deadly virus.

An update on the daily figures for deaths, hospital admissions and intensive care cases over the New Year weekend is expected on Tuesday.

As of December 31, the official death toll in Scotland stood at 4578. However, weekly figures on suspected Covid-19 deaths recorded by National Records of Scotland suggest the most up-to-date total is at least 6298.

Sturgeon said: “It is no exaggeration to say that I am more concerned about the situation we face now than I have been at any time since March last year.”

NHS capacity is already beginning to strain at some health boards, with NHS Ayrshire and Arran currently at 96% capacity, while Borders, Greater Glasgow and Clyde and Lanarkshire are above 60%.

Urging Scots to “stick with” the new restrictions as a coronavirus vaccine is rolled out, the First Minister said: “I know that the next few weeks will be incredibly tough.

“I’m sorry to ask for further sacrifices, after nine long months of them, but these sacrifices are necessary.

“And the difference between now and last March is that with the help of vaccines, we now have confidence that they will pave the way to brighter days ahead. 

“So – for everyone’s sake and safety – please stick with it and stay home.”

Sturgeon also returned to the public messaging from the March lockdown, saying: “Stay home. Save lives. Protect the NHS.”

Parents group UsForThem Scotland said closing schools was the news parents had been “dreading”.

Its organiser Jo Bisset said: “We’re almost a year into this pandemic and children are suffering more than anyone.

“Only time will tell the full extent of the impact of this decision, but there’s no question that the damage being done to the lives of young people is significant.”

Scottish Conservatives Holyrood leader Ruth Davidson said the government had been “complacent” over the needs of children learning from home.

She said: “After today’s announcement, parents are having to rip up childcare plans, negotiate with their employers and, most significantly, they’re worried about their children’s fractured education.  

“SNP complacency over support and learning will not only cost pupils the next few weeks of schooling, it will potentially hinder their future progress and cause the attainment gap between richer and poorer pupils to stretch even wider.

“The stark warnings from education experts, opposition parties and even the Children and Young People’s commissioner have gone unheeded for too long.

“The government has had months to prepare for this possibility and instead, schools are facing a return almost to square one and without the necessary guidance and resources they need to provide equal access to high quality education.”

Meanwhile, in a televised address on Monday night, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson imposed a third national lockdown on England and shut schools to most students.

Johnson’s statement came after the chief medical officers for the first time raised the UK to the highest level on the Covid-19 alert system.

They warned the NHS is at risk of being overwhelmed within 21 days “in several areas” without further action.

Johnson said the restrictions are unlikely to be eased until around 13 million people aged over 70 or classed as clinically extremely vulnerable have received the vaccine and been given enough time to be protected – a period of about two to three weeks after getting the jab.

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