NICOLA Sturgeon has suggested that her tiered coronavirus strategy could involve triggers that would require schools to put blended learning plans into action – while insisting all options are being kept open to suppress the virus.

The First Minister will hold discussions with Holyrood political leaders tomorrow before publishing her tiered framework by the end of the week.

The tiered system, a similar approach taken by Boris Johnson for England, is set for a debate in Holyrood early next week after MSPs return from recess.

It is expected that the tiered strategy could come into force as temporary hospitality restrictions are due to expire on Monday 26 October.

At her daily coronavirus briefing, Ms Sturgeon was asked to respond to calls by the EIS teaching union for triggers that would require schools to close or revert to blended learning models to be published as part of the tiered strategy.

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The First Minister stressed that she will “strive to keep schools open”.

She added: “Within all the tiers we will continue to take judgements on whether that is possible or not.

“We’ve always said that we cannot rule out, in parts of Scotland or Scotland overall, at any stage, reverting to blended learning for a period but we want to avoid that if possible.”

But the First Minister warned that if the numbers of cases continue to rise, measures around schools may have to be looked at.

She said: “If we do see a continuing acceleration of the spread of the virus and if we have a tiered approach, the further up the tiered approach you go, then considerations about what that means for schools will be ongoing.

“Part of the reason for moving to a tiered approach is to give people greater certainty - if the virus is at this kind of level, here’s the restrictions that will be in place. When we set out the levels, we will set out the basket of metrics that will be used to assess whether part of the country or the country overall moves from one level to another.

“We will look at metrics, we will look at triggers, but there always has to be a public health informed judgement applied to these things – that will be true in any decisions we make about schools as well.”

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Scotland’s chief nursing officer, Professor Fiona McQueen, indicated that any decision to force schools to close will not be as straightforward as the decision taken in March to close all schools and cancel this year’s exam diet.

She said: “We know a lot more about the virus now than we did in March. When we shut down society in March, we were doing that to protect the population because the transmission of the virus was incredibly out of control.

“The schools themselves are very low risk, although they do increase R slightly. The balance of the improvement in children’s chances, children’s opportunities, their education, mental health and wellbeing is incredibly powerful.”

She added: “Although there have been times when either pupils or teachers in schools have tested positive, the number of actual outbreaks in schools across Scotland has been incredibly low.

“We have a lot more reliable information to us that helps support that decision-making with the ultimate aim to keep schools open as long as it’s safe for children and young people and, of course, teachers and support staff.”