Lockdown exit set to accelerate as more pupils return to school

The First Minister also revealed that the next phase of school returns will go ahead as scheduled on March 15.

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The Scottish Government will consider in the next week if the easing of restrictions can be accelerated, Nicola Sturgeon has announced.

In an update to MSPs at the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday, the First Minister also revealed that the next phase of school returns will go ahead as scheduled on March 15.

Primaries 4-7 will go back as previously planned on that date, while secondary pupils will now get some time in school before the Easter holidays.

At the moment Scotland is due to return to a regional, five-level system from the last week in April. However, the exit out of lockdown could come sooner due to “encouraging” figures recorded in the past week.

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The First Minister said: “We will be considering if it might be possible to accelerate the exit from lockdown in any way, consistent of course with the care and caution that we know continues to be necessary.”

Sturgeon said if the Scottish Government can go “further and faster, then we will not hesitate to do so”.

She added: “All of us want to move on as quickly as possible – and, as a priority, to see friends and family again. I hope that day is now not too far away.

“But to make sure we don’t see any reverse in our progress that would put that in jeopardy, it is really important that, for now, we all need to abide by the lockdown rules.

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“So please continue to stick to their letter and their spirit.”

On Tuesday it was revealed that a further 33 people have died in Scotland after being diagnosed with Covid-19. An additional 542 cases were also recorded in the past 24 hours.

Sturgeon highlighted that the average of new cases reported had dropped to 657 from 815 at this point last week. Case positivity is now consistently below 5%.

The First Minister also confirmed that the next phase of school returns will go ahead as planned.

Last week’s strategic framework said all primary school pupils would return full-time, if data supported the return.

A phased return of pupils will take place between March 15 and the Easter break, with all pupils given at least some in-school teaching in that time, before full-time schooling returns after the holidays.

However, when secondary schools return, face coverings will have to be worn at all times and physical distancing guidelines followed.

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The First Minister also urged school staff and older secondary pupils to take up the lateral flow tests being made available.

She said: “I would encourage as many staff and senior phase pupils as possible to use the tests when they return to school. It is a further important way in which we can ensure that schools remain as safe as possible.”

The First Minister also thanked school staff for their work to support young people during the pandemic.

She said: “I know everyone is looking forward to having children back in the classroom as soon as possible.

“I also want to thank parents across the country. I can only imagine how difficult all of this disruption continues to be – but I hope, and believe, that the end of it is now firmly in sight.

“And my thanks too to children and young people. I know how hard it must be to be separated from friends and teachers.

“But you have responded magnificently to all the difficulties of the last year.

“I hope that you are looking forward to getting back to school later this month.”

The Scottish Conservatives said the earlier-than-planned return of secondary pupils was the “latest SNP u-turn”.

Holyrood leader Ruth Davidson said: “While today marks a gradual speeding up for a return to schools, the First Minister’s latest announcement was also typically vague and only prolongs uncertainty.

“No-one wants to risk an increase in cases by moving too quickly but pupils deserve better than guesswork based on the SNP’s drip feeding of partial information.”