Covid: Sturgeon extends face masks and distancing in schools

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon during First Minister's Questions in the debating chamber of the Scottish Parliament.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon during First Minister's Questions in the debating chamber of the Scottish Parliament.

Ms Sturgeon told MSPs restrictions on school children will 'remain in place until the October holidays, subject to a review at that point'

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Face masks and physical distancing rules in schools are to be extended, the First Minister has said.

Nicola Sturgeon confirmed that all current mitigations, including the use of face coverings by pupils in secondary school classrooms and the one-metre distance rule between staff members and staff and pupils will remain in schools until at least the October holidays.

Students at St Columba's High School, Gourock.
Students at St Columba's High School, Gourock.

Her comments come as the Scottish Government confirmed all children aged 12-15 in Scotland are to begin being offered vaccinations from Monday.

Speaking in Parliament on Tuesday, Ms Sturgeon told MSPs: “We indicated at the start of term that secondary schools pupils would need to wear face coverings in class for the first six weeks of term, subject to a review at that point.

“Given the high levels of infection still being experienced, the advisory sub-group has advised that this requirement should remain in place until the October holidays, and be reviewed again then.

“I know how unpopular this is with many pupils and I understand why.

“But for now, it remains a prudent and necessary precaution.”

The First Minister also confirmed letters sent to parents of pupils who are most likely to have had low risk contact with someone who has tested positive should be distributed on a targeted basis.

I know how unpopular this is with many pupils and I understand why

Nicola Sturgeon

They should also offer advice on issues such as looking out for symptoms, and using lateral flow testing.

Pupils and staff are also being encouraged to take a lateral flow test more frequently before returning to school.

This is in addition to current advice for staff and secondary pupils to take a lateral flow test twice a week, with a few days apart, and record the result before returning to the classroom.

Ms Sturgeon said revised guidance to reflect these changes will be published as soon as possible adding, “all of these measures reflect our commitment to prioritising the wellbeing of children and young people – and our determination to minimise disruption to education.”

Scotland’s education secretary, Shirley-Anne Somerville, added: “This decision has been informed by expert medical advice and will be kept under close review to ensure it remains appropriate.

“We owe a debt of gratitude to our young people, for their continued compliance with the public health measures that keep us all safe.

“I promise that if we can remove the restrictions sooner, we will.

“For the moment though, we consider this an important protection for them, and for others in the school.”

Shadow cabinet secretary for education, Oliver Mundell, said the Scottish Conservatives will urge the SNP to reconsider its decision so that pupils can return to a “normal school experience” as early as possible.

Scottish Conservative Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills Oliver Mundell says school children have 'been denied a return to normality.'
Scottish Conservative Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills Oliver Mundell says school children have 'been denied a return to normality.'

He said: “School children have once again been denied a return to normality and will undergo further disruption to their learning.

“Nicola Sturgeon promised school children that wearing masks would be reviewed after the first six weeks of term but today, with two weeks left till that date, the SNP have taken the decision to extend mask wearing till the October break.

“Many pupils and parents will no doubt feel that this decision is unfair and shows a double standard towards young people compared with other settings where rules surrounding masks have been changed.”

On Tuesday, 3,375 positive cases were reported – 11.4% of all tests carried out.

A total of 21 new deaths were recorded in the last 24 hours, according to the latest data from the Scottish Government, which take the total number of deaths registered to 8,263.

To date, 1,064 people are in hospital with Covid, 16 more than the day before, and 89 people are in intensive care, which is 1 fewer than yesterday.