A phased return of pupils to classrooms in Scotland will begin on Monday, the first minister has announced.
Nicola Sturgeon revealed the news in a statement to the Scottish parliament this afternoon, as she said the country’s lockdown would continue until at least the beginning of March.
“The core stay at home requirement will remain in place until at least the beginning of March – and possibly for a further period beyond that,” the first minister told MSPs.
She said the shutdown was working – with fewer COVID-19 patients in hospital and intensive care – but cautioned that “even a slight” easing of restrictions could see cases “start rising rapidly again”.
And Ms Sturgeon said that a return to “100% normality” would not be possible in the near future.
She told the Scottish parliament that some measures may have to remain in force, with “trade offs” required to ease some restrictions.
“I know this is difficult given how desperate we all are to get back to something close to normal, but if we open up too quickly to meet arbitrary dates, we risk setting progress back,” the first minister said.
“Indeed, because of the new, more infectious variant, our exit from lockdown is likely to be even more cautious than it was last summer.
“And secondly, probably for a while yet, 100% normality is unlikely to be possible.
“So in a world where we can’t do everything immediately, we will need to decide what matters most.”
On schools, Ms Sturgeon said pupils in Primary 1 to Primary 3 will return on 22 February, along with those in the senior phase of secondary school.
She said older pupils would only be allowed back to make sure practical work important to their qualifications was finished, while only between 5% and 8% of any school’s roll should be permitted to return.
All children under school age in early learning and childcare will return as well, the first minister announced.
Ms Sturgeon said earlier this month that the return of pupils would be supported by an expansion of testing, with older pupils and anyone working in schools or childcare settings routinely tested twice a week.
The return date is two weeks earlier than the potential date proposed by Prime Minister Boris Johnson for the reopening of schools in England.
In Wales, children aged three to seven will also return to the classroom on 22 February, along with some older children on vocational courses.
In Northern Ireland, ministers are set to discuss a potential date for reopening schools at a meeting on Thursday.
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