THE FIRST Minister admitted that schools are likely to see outbreaks of coronavirus, on the day many pupils returned to classrooms in the wake of the Covid-19 lockdown.

Nicola Sturgeon made the observation before the Scottish Government confirmed that teachers, nursery and school staff can now be tested for Covid-19 on demand if they are concerned they have been at risk from infection, even if they show no symptoms.

It comes as it was confirmed a lockdown imposed in Aberdeen a week ago after a spike in Covid-19 cases is to remain in place.

Ministers say the number of new cases in the city had fallen in recent days - but was still "much higher" than in other areas.

It means pubs and restaurants will remain closed and restrictions on travel and visiting other households stays in place.

A total of 177 cases was yesterday linked to the outbreak - 12 more than on Tuesday - with 900 contacts having been identified.

In facing questions on the effectiveness of Test and Protect, the measures brought in at the end of May to contact trace Covid-19 outbreaks, she appeared to accept the risks of infection in schools.

She told MSPs: "We will in all likelihood see outbreaks of coronavirus in schools, and in secondary schools, perhaps, in particular. It is how we contain those and make sure that those are properly dealt with that is the really important thing.

"I want to give the chamber assurance that that is absolutely an issue of priority focus for the government."

The Scottish Government's move to test all school staff on demand was one of the calls made by Scotland's biggest teaching union EIS - but it falls short of regular testing that many have called for.

Ministers said the step has been taken to provide additional reassurance to teachers, nursery and other staff as children and young people return to the classroom and to early learning.

Deputy First Minister John Swinney confirmed the move to Parliament and in a letter to the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), and as he published a summary paper from the Chief Medical Officer on the latest science in respect of COVID-19 and schools.


Mr Swinney said:“Ensuring the highest quality education for our young people, in a safe environment, is our absolute priority.

“Thanks to our success in suppressing COVID-19 in Scotland, it is now safe for schools to return. Guidance, informed by the latest scientific advice, sets out the range of measures schools should take to minimise the risk of the spread of the virus."

It comes after a poll of nearly 30,000 teachers in Scotland outlined serious safety concerns in advance of primary and secondary schools beginning a phased re-opening from yesterday.

Some 81.9% have said they registered varying degrees of a lack of confidence over the ability to keep the required 2m distance in the classroom.

Three in four have said they feel unsafe returning to school with the majority saying they feel uncomfortable teaching without social distancing between pupils.

Mr Swinney added:“We know concerns still exist and I want teachers and staff to not just be safe, but to feel safe, in school and in nursery.

“While clinical advice is clear that testing those with symptoms must be the priority, we are now offering all staff who are concerned they may have been at risk of infection to have access to testing through their employer.

“I hope this additional measure will reassure teachers, nursery and support staff as we return to full-time in classroom education.”

The move falls short of teachers and pupils being routinely tested for coronavirus.

It has been confirmed that what is described as an "enhanced surveillance" involving sample testing and covering only a cross-section of schools was being planned by the Scottish Government – but might not be yesterday, the day many schools were re-opening.

Officials planned over a "period of time" to work with "substantial numbers of [older] children and workers" at a "representative sample of schools" throughout Scotland, using repeated testing and survey data and participation would be voluntary. Guidance did make clear how often the testing will be carried out.

The Scottish Greens are among those who have raised worries that the measures for schools being pursued are just not robust enough, especially as professional sports stars and staff at clubs are tested at least twice a week.

And in response to the voluntary access testing, Scottish Greens education spokesman Ross Greer said concerns remain.

“I welcome that our calls for greater teacher testing has been heard, but clearly if this is going to be effective, particularly in areas like Aberdeen, it should be regularly offered to school staff rather than require them to seek it out," he said.

“I was extremely concerned to hear the Scottish Government’s clinical director say this week that routine testing ‘doesn’t work’. The countries which have successfully eliminated COVID-19 credit much of this to their intense use of regular testing, and it underpins the Scottish Government’s rules for the return of premier league football. School staff surely deserve the same reassurance as footballers.”

Scotland’s health secretary, Jeane Freeman announced on May 18 that all 53,000 care home staff would be offered weekly tests to help cut infections in homes, the site of around half of Scotland’s Covid deaths. But the Scottish Government have since been beset with problems in addressing that.

Ms Sturgeon spoke out while being quizzed on how effective the track and trace programme actually was in the aftermath of the cluster of Covid-19 cases in Aberdeen.

Willie Rennie leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats responded: "I am equally sure that is why the First Minister understands that people are very nervous about what is going to happen following the opening of the schools."

Ministers have previously admitted it is unable to demonstrate the effectiveness of its flagship coronavirus track and trace system - in advance of the opening of schools.

The Herald on Sunday revealed that while details on the effectiveness of contact tracing south of the border have been available for weeks in advance of their schools opening in September, the success or otherwise of Scotland's two-and-a-half-month-old Test and Protect system is not expected to be in place till the end of the month.

A source when asked why it is taking so long said: "The National Contact Tracing Centre and Public Health Scotland is continuing to work with CMS [Case Management System] users across the territorial boards to improve data quality ahead of publication."

Last week scientists in a study warned the current testing and contact tracing south of the border was inadequate to prevent a second wave of coronavirus after schools reopened.

This is because the contact tracing system must reach at least 68 per cent of people who have tested positive for coronavirus, and their contacts, in order to contain the spread.

The First Minister later said schools guidance includes "a number of mitigating factors to ensure that schools are safe and the right protections have been put in place".

She added: "Again, we will keep that under very very close review."