Sturgeon set to give Covid update as school pupils return to classroom

Nicola Sturgeon will address virtual meeting of the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday.

Sturgeon set to give Covid update as school pupils return to classroom iStock
Scotland registered its highest number of new coronavirus infections on Monday.

Nicola Sturgeon is to give a Covid-19 update at the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday, after the country recorded almost 40,000 new coronavirus cases in the last two days.

The First Minister will make a virtual statement to MSPs as many school pupils return to the classroom following the Christmas break.

The Scottish Government has urged all secondary school pupils to take a lateral flow test, while those aged 12-15 are being encouraged to come forward for their second coronavirus jab.

Sturgeon’s update is scheduled a day after a further 17,259 new cases of Covid were recorded in Scotland, the second-highest number of new coronavirus infections on record.

But the latest figure was almost 3000 behind Monday’s record number of 20,217 cases, the highest total since the start of the pandemic.

Teaching union the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) said there is a “degree of nervousness” among members as pupils return from Wednesday.

Safety guidance for schools was updated in December in light of the Omicron variant and mitigations include physical distancing, one-way systems and the correct use of face coverings.

EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said: “There will be a degree of nervousness, I think, because Omicron hadn’t really impacted dramatically on schools pre-Christmas. We saw an increase in absences in the final week or so, but the return this week for most schools, this will reveal just how significant the impact of Omicron has been.

“And I think that, for many staff members, there may well be concern that we will see a further spread of infection within schools just given the high numbers of children and staff who will have been infected.”

One of the most eagerly-anticipated updates is whether the First Minister will cut the 10-day self-isolation period for people who have tested positive along with their household contacts.

Deputy first minister John Swinney acknowledged on Tuesday the 10-day isolation period puts a “greater strain” on public services, adding the Scottish Government will take such a decision if they are confident it is the right approach.

Scottish Conservative Leader Douglas Ross accused Sturgeon of “dithering and delaying”.

He said: “Scotland has the strictest self-isolation rules anywhere in the United Kingdom.

“We understand the need for caution, but Nicola Sturgeon’s dithering and delaying is continuing to have a major impact on frontline services and the wider economy, due to the sheer numbers having to isolate.

“She must finally confirm in her latest update that the period of isolation will be cut to seven days, for those who have tested negative twice.

“Her indecision, coupled with new restrictions, has harmed many businesses at what should have been their busiest time of the year.”

According to data released on Tuesday, patients in Scottish hospitals with coronavirus have risen by 116 to a record high of 1147, including 42 patients in intensive care, an increase of three.

Official statistics released earlier this week showed just one patient with a confirmed case of the Omicron variant has required intensive care since the strain emerged in the country.

Scottish Labour’s health and Covid recovery spokesperson Jackie Baillie said the picture for public services and businesses “remains bleak”.

She said: “The SNP must use this update to confirm whether they will change self-isolation requirements in line with the latest evidence, to stop staff absences piling yet more pressure on businesses and services this winter.

“Scotland’s testing system is showing signs of considerable strain, leaving people across the country facing impossible decisions.

“Before any new restrictions can be justified the government must act to ensure our testing system is working properly and demonstrate the evidence that new rules would meet the unique challenges of Omicron.

“Schools across Scotland are beginning their return, but it is unclear what meaningful steps, such as improving ventilation, have been taken to stop the spread of Covid in the classroom.”

What are the current Covid restrictions in Scotland?

Events have one-metre social distancing and are limited to 100 people standing indoors, 200 people sitting indoors and 500 people outdoors.

One-metre physical distancing is in place in all indoor hospitality and leisure settings.

Table service is also required where alcohol is being served.

Since December 14, people have been asked to reduce their social contacts as much as possible by meeting in groups of no more than three households.

Allowing staff to work from home where possible has become a legal duty on employers.

Care home visits have also been limited to two households.