Nicola Sturgeon to recall Holyrood as schools 'may stay shut for January'

Nicola Sturgeon is to recall Holyrood amid fears over how rapidly the new strain of Covid-19 is spreading.

By Alexander Brown
Sunday, 3rd January 2021, 12:02 pm
Updated Sunday, 3rd January 2021, 5:06 pm
Nicola Sturgeon is set to recall Holyrood amid plans to shut schools for January.

The First Minister will meet with the Scottish cabinet to consider tougher measures including closing schools throughout this month and a return to a March-style lockdown.

Holyrood’s presiding officer has been asked to recall parliament for a statement by Ms Sturgeon on Monday afternoon.

Scotland has seen an increase of 2,464 new Covid-19 cases in the last 24 hours, higher than Saturday’s confirmed increase of 2,137 new cases.

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It comes with the Scottish Government coming under great pressure over the return to school, much like the Prime Minister.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The recent, rapid increase in COVID cases in Scotland, driven by the new variant of the virus, is a very serious concern.

"The even steeper rises and severe pressure on the NHS that is being experienced in some other parts of the UK is a sign of what may lie ahead in Scotland if we do not take all possible steps now to slow the spread of the virus, while the vaccination programme progresses.

"The First Minister has therefore asked that Parliament be recalled from recess on Monday afternoon to allow her to make an urgent statement on further measures to supress transmission.

"This will come after a meeting of the Cabinet on Monday morning. The Education Recovery Group will also meet on Monday.

“The strong message remains people should stay at home as much as possible and avoid non-essential interaction with others.”

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In a series of tweets, the First Minister claimed the new variant was a “serious concern”.

She wrote: “The steep increases and severe NHS pressure being experienced in other parts of the UK is a sign of what may lie ahead.

"So we must take all steps to slow spread while vaccination progresses.

“We, like other countries, are in a race between this faster spreading strain of Covid and the vaccination programme.

“As we work to vaccinate as quickly as possible, we must also do more to slow down the virus – to save lives and help the NHS care for all those who need it.

“Following a meeting of the Scottish Government resilience committee yesterday to assess latest situation, the Cabinet will meet tomorrow am to consider further action to limit spread and I’ve asked for Scottish Parliament to be recalled tomorrow afternoon so that I can set out our decisions in a statement.

“All decisions just now are tough, with tough impacts. Vaccines give us way out, but this new strain makes the period between now and then the most dangerous since start of pandemic.

“So the responsibility of government must be to act quickly and decisively in the national interest.”

Schools had been set to fully reopen on January 18, a plan that has remained under constant review.

It is believed the Scottish Government was originally looking at rapid testing in schools, but is now concerned the new strain spreads so fast this would not be enough.

The majority of the country is already in level four restrictions, including all of mainland Scotland and Skye, with the other islands in level three.

Earlier today the Prime Minister insisted schools in England were “safe”, but refused to rule out taking more action.

Mr Johnson claimed he has “no doubt” that classrooms are safe and that the risk to young people was “very, very small”.

He added: “Schools are safe. It is very, very important to stress that.

“I would advise all parents thinking about want to do, look at where your area is, overwhelmingly you’ll be in a part of the country where primary schools tomorrow will be open.”

His insistence comes in a week teaching unions across the UK have warned against the planned reopening.

In Scotland, the Educational Institute of Scotland called it a "recipe for disaster".

General secretary Larry Flanagan, said: “There seems to be increasing evidence of the role of young people in the transmission of this new variant.”

"If we have easier transmission through particularly the teenage population, then reopening schools where there’s no physical distancing amongst young people would be a recipe for disaster, it would simply accelerate the transmission of infection in the wider community.

“Schools can only reopen safely when we have effectively suppressed community infection levels, and at the moment, although there is some lag in the data because of the

Christmas/New Year break, the indications seem to be that this new variant has taken hold in Scotland, and we therefore have to face up to this new challenge.”

On Friday, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson confirmed that all of London’s primary schools would remain shut to most students, despite saying this would only be in certain boroughs earlier in the week.

The call to close was made in Holyrood by the Scottish Greens, with co-leader Patrick Harvie insisting they close.

He said: “With more new cases in the last day than any other daily rise and the numbers in hospital and ICU also rising, there is a need for caution.

“We need to be honest and accept that schools cannot go back until the situation is under control and the role schools play in transmission of the new strain is understood.

"Teachers have already told us staff do not feel safe, it’s time to listen to them.

“And when schools are to open, clearly teachers must benefit from the new increased capacity in vaccinations."

This is just the fifth time the Holyrood parliament has been recalled and the second time within the last four weeks.

Previously, it was convened after the deaths of Donald Dewar in October 2000 and the Queen Mother in April 2002.

It was also reconvened following the release of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi in 2009.

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