NICOLA Sturgeon has told teachers there is “no reason” not to keep the Protect Scotland app on after Aberdeen City Council issued guidance to school staff to disable the software when they are in classrooms.

Guidance reportedly issued to teachers and support staff in Aberdeen states that those working in schools should “disable or remove the app” - but the First Minister stressed this advice should only be for people “wearing PPE in a clinical setting”.

The guidance points to the “high level of Covid controls and safety measures within our school buildings have been working extremely well” - and stresses that “no close contacts are being identified in either staff or pupils because of the mitigations in place in schools”.

The correspondence adds that “consistent wearing of fluid resistant masks and strict adherence to two metre distancing have played a significant part in this”.

It adds: “Public health colleagues have suggested that schools staff should disable or remove the app while working in schools buildings as the app is not able to identify when robust mitigations have been in place.”

Ms Sturgeon was asked about the issue at her daily coronavirus briefing and was aware of the situation but had not read the letter.

She said: “I understand there may have been an incident in a school in Aberdeen where a number of phones were altogether but the people who the phones belonged to weren’t all together and therefore they all got pinged.

“We shouldn’t be asking people to switch off the app, in my view, when they have their phone with them – that's defeating the purpose of Protect Scotland.

“I would say we should be encouraging people, unless they do a job where it clearly wouldn't be appropriate to keep their phones on them with the app switched on so that Protect Scotland is working is working the way it should.”

The First Minister said the app can be disabled for those “wearing PPE in a clinical setting” as well as potentially for people “behind a plastic barrier” or when they are “putting a phone in a locker”.

She said: “Using common sense, if you’ve got an app on your phone that is meant to assist with contact tracing people who may have been exposed to the virus, your default advice is to tell people to keep it on and to keep the phone with them as far as possible.

“Let me be very clear – the Protect Scotland app only works and is only effective if you download it to your phone, you keep it switched on and you have your phone with you. If it’s on and running when your phone is away from you it may still get alerts but obviously that will not mean you have been exposed to the virus.”

Ms Sturgeon added: “I don’t know at the moment what the basis for Aberdeen City Council’s advice is – they question national advice quite liberally and quite often, as they are entitled to do. “I’m not entirely sure what the chain of events leading to this will be – I will certainly be trying to get to the bottom of it. I cannot be clearer – if you are a teacher in a school, there's no reason that I can think of that you would be routinely advised to turn that app of and there's every reason I can think of why that would be not the right advice to give.”

Scotland’s national clinical director, Professor Jason Leitch added: “Don’t switch the app off unless you are wearing PPE and in contact with people – patients, families that would protect you from. “If you are a dentist and you’re treating people in the dental surgery, your app would be off because you are protected. But if you go for coffee with the staff, your app should be back on. It’s very straightforward and that shouldn’t happen in schools except for very exceptional circumstances where they are perhaps having to treat somebody who is sick.”

Teaching union bosses have insisted the app should be used properly by anyone including teachers.

EIS general secretary, Larry Flanagan, said: “It is acceptable where teachers are leaving mobile phones in secure lockers or staff bases whilst they are teaching elsewhere, to follow advice that the app should be switched off, as the proximity of phones does not match physical proximity of the owners.

“However, where someone keeps the phone in person, we see no reason for the app to be switched off as sustained close contact should properly trigger an alert, whether you are in a school or not.”

The Scottish Greens have called for the guidance to be retracted and clear advice to be issued to schools.

The party’s education spokesperson, Ross Greer, said: “School staff are being put at risk every day. Extremely vulnerable teachers are being bullied back into classroom against the advice of their GPs and now we learn that council officials are instructing teachers to turn the Test and Protect app off.

“The app is an essential tool in reducing transmission of the virus within the community and in allowing exposed individuals to take steps to protect both themselves and their families, so this diktat isn’t just wrong, it’s dangerous.

“It’s essential that the Education Secretary intervenes immediately to have this instruction withdrawn and new guidance issued to all schools, encouraging not just staff but pupils as well to download the app at”

An Aberdeen City Council spokesperson said: "We have been working closely with public health officials locally and have agreed an enhanced level of PPE equipment for teachers and classroom assistants which is above that in the national guidance.  Discussions also been carried out with trade unions.

“The health, safety and wellbeing of our staff and pupils is our highest priority and we are happy to provide additional medical-grade PPE to our teachers and classroom assistants who may require to be within two metres of a pupil or member of staff."

She added: “We had a positive case in a school and we undertook an investigation and public health also made an assessment.  The use of medical-grade PPE by staff resulted in them not being identified as a close contact. 

“Some time later, the app sent a message to the same staff and asked them to self-isolate.  Public health advised that staff disable the app whilst in school. We passed that advice onto schools whilst we await an update from the Scottish Government who we advised of the issue on Tuesday evening.”