High school pupils will return to school after Easter holidays
Virtually all secondary school pupils are set to return to school full-time after the Easter holidays, the First Minister has confirmed.
The only exception is pupils in the shielding category who are advised to remain at home until later this month, when lockdown will be eased further.
Nicola Sturgeon was unable to say whether any of the easing would be brought forward following progress on suppressing the virus since January.
She will announce whether the reopening of retail and parts of hospitality can go ahead towards the end of April in an announcement on 20 April.
At that point she will also set out whether plans from mid-May can be accelerated as part of the return to normality.
However, she insisted any easing must be done “cautiously and carefully” and warned fresh lockdowns like those recently announced in France “could still happen here if we let down our guard too far or too quickly”.
She said: “If we can possibly avoid it, we don’t want to have to go backwards as we ease these restrictions, as we did towards the latter part of last year. Even if we go a bit more slowly than people would like, if that means we keep going firmly forward then I think that is the priority.”
There have been calls for lockdown to be eased more quickly.
The Scottish Conservatives called for restrictions currently planned to be lifted on 17 May to be lifted on 26 April instead, with the exception of indoor gatherings.
Leader Douglas Ross said: “The SNP Government should not keep Scotland under restrictions any longer than we need to because every day that the government delays, the impact grows on mental health, physical health and family finances.
“We are facing a looming jobs crisis that will be far worse if the government holds back on a return to normality. This is the time to back businesses and work with them to start rebuilding Scotland now.
“People are waiting to get on with their lives. They should not wait any longer than public health data shows is necessary.”
On the return of schools, Sturgeon said physical distancing must remain in place alongside other measures, including improvement to ventilation in school buildings.
Scottish Labour welcomed the announcement. Leader Anas Sarwar said: “We want children back to school but we want to make sure we do it in as safe a way as possible.
“We also have to think about the workforce in our classrooms and that is why again I would say, now we have a ramping up of the vaccine supply, we should be looking at rolling out those vaccine for teachers to give them a sense of confidence, and to pupils and parents as well.”
Teaching unions EIS also urged the government to improve mitigation measures like vaccine, fasemark use and ventilation.
General secretary Larry Flanagan said, “The full return of pupils needs to be treated with great caution. It will undoubtedly lead to an increase in school COVID outbreaks which will require to be dealt with quickly.”
The First Minister has encouraged more secondary school staff and pupils to make use of lateral flow tests.
In addition, she confirmed the Scottish Government planned to make these tests available to everyone in Scotland twice a week, mirroring the announcement made by the UK Government yesterday.
More detail on this will be published later this week, but Sturgeon said the government had “greater confidence” that it would have stocks to meet the demand.
She said: “I can also confirm today that – to support the further easing of restrictions – we will further expand the availability of testing. We do intend to move to a situation where lateral flow tests are available twice a week on a universally accessible basis.”
Currently only schools, health workers and some workplaces have access to the tests.