SCOTLAND “may be close to the time” when school pupils no longer need to wear face coverings but “we have not yet reached that stage”, Nicola Sturgeon has insisted.
The First Minister told MSPs at her weekly Covid update in Holyrood that an expert group looking at the requirement to wear face masks in schools will consider the issue again next week.
New guidance is set to be published today that will ease the requirement for bubbles or groups of pupils in schools – removing the Omicron measures in classooms, but not face masks.
Speaking in Holyrood, Ms Sturgeon said: “The advisory subgroup on education met last week to review Covid measures in schools and early learning and childcare settings.
“I can confirm that in light of its recommendations, revised guidance is being published today, which effectively returns schools and early years settings to the situation before the emergence of Omicron.
“The revised guidance eases requirements for bubbles or groupings within schools and is less restrictive in its advice on visitors to school and school trips.”
She added: “The sub-group also considered the issue of face coverings.
“It concluded that although we may be close to the time when face coverings no longer need to be worn in the class room assuming current trends continue, we have not yet reached that stage.”
Ms Sturgeon stressed that “no-one wants young people to have to wear face coverings in the classroom for a moment longer than necessary”.
She added: “But given the current uncertainty about infection trends in the immediate future, and the relatively high levels of Covid in the younger age groups, continued caution is prudent at this stage.
“The sub-group will consider the issue of face coverings again on February 8.”
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said “the latest figures show that Covid is under control”.
He added: “Even though the data is very positive, the SNP Scottish Government are still insisting on the use of face masks in schools.
“Adults can go to the pub and not wear a face mask, but pupils in the classroom have to.
“First Minister, just what needs to happen for your Government to remove the requirement of face coverings in our classrooms?”
In response, Ms Sturgeon said that “we’re asking adults who go to the pub to wear face coverings as they move about”.
She added: “Children are still less vaccinated than adults because the vaccination of children was recommended by the JCVI at a much later stage.
“It is right to continue to take a precautionary approach to the protection of children.”
Labour’s Jackie Baillie pointed to a “high number of Covid cases in schools”.
She said: “There were almost 33,000 children not in school because of Covid-19 on just one day last week.
“For months, Scottish Labour has asked the Government to address ventilation in our schools.
“If we are to live safely with Covid, we need to make our schools safe for pupils and teachers. That’s why Labour has repeatedly called for HEPA filters in every classroom.
“This needs a fourfold increase in the budget and will also help to ensure that masks can be removed. Will the Government finally listen and deliver these filters?”
The First Minister insisted that “it is not the case that every space in our schools or early years setting need measures like this” as she addressed teh £5m of funding for air filters.
She added: “But the fund that has been made available on the assessment of the number of spaces that may need some additional mitigation, this would be funding that is adequate for the purchase of air cleaning or filtration units.
“This funding covers what it is assessed is needed but we will keep that under review with local councils.”