There needs to be a “sustained and emphatic” fall in community transmission of coronavirus before schools can reopen, Deputy First Minister John Swinney has said.
The Scottish Government has announced that schools will remain closed for most pupils until at least the middle of February because community transmission of the virus is too high to allow a safe return to classrooms on February 1 as planned.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said it is a “priority” to reopen schools as soon as possible and the Government will review when they could safely open again for all pupils on February 2.
Most pupils are currently taking part in online learning, with only those deemed vulnerable and the children of key workers attending school.
Deputy First Minister John Swinney said there needs to be a sustained fall in community transmission before schools could open to all pupils.
Asked at what point schools could reopen, he told The Nine on BBC Scotland: “We’ve got to see community transmission falling, we’ve got to see that falling in a very sustained and emphatic fashion over a sustained period of time.”
He said the number of people in hospital also has to be taken into consideration to avoid putting extra pressure on the health service.
Swinney told the programme: “We’ve also got to watch hospital occupancy and the level of stress that our hospitals are coping with.”
He added: “We’ve got to recognise that we’ve got to avoid adding any more cases to that by relaxing lockdown, which is probably what would happen if we did so, so it’s a mix of these different indicators to get to a position where we think it is safer for us to be able to reopen schools with face-to-face learning.”
Swinney said that schools were able to remain open during the autumn term because community transmission of the virus was at a lower level but that the position has now changed.
He said: “I think the crucial element which supported us in managing to keep schools open from August until December, which we managed right across the country with limited exceptions of self isolation periods, we managed that because community transmission of the virus was at a comparatively lower level.
“Now it’s been much higher and we’re working with the lockdown arrangements in place and with the participation of members of the public to reduce those prevalence levels of the virus.”
He said we’re seeing “important progress” in that journey but that people need to follow the coronavirus rules to get community transmission of the virus down.
Speaking on Tuesday, Sturgeon said: “If it is at all possible, as I very much hope it will be, to begin even a phased return to in-school learning in mid-February, we will.
“But I also have to be straight with families and say that it is simply too early to be sure about whether and to what extent this will be possible.”