NICOLA Sturgeon has been told to keep schools closed until the spread of the mutated variant of Covid-19 is “under control” amid a warning the strain is now the “dominant” variety in Scotland.

The First Minister told MSPs that plans remain on track for schools to re-open on January 18 but was unable to rule out any changes given the spread of the more transmissible strain of Covid-19.

Investigations into the latest positive test results at UK Government-run lighthouse labs found that 42.8 per cent of Scotland’s cases are the new variant of Covid-19, a stark increase from just six per cent at the end of November.

Ms Sturgeon said the figures showed the mutated variant “appears to be fast becoming the dominant one circulating in Scotland”.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: All Scots over 50 to receive vaccine by spring

Scotland’s schools were told they cannot re-open physically until January 18, with the festive holiday period extended amid concerns over the new strain of coronavirus spreading up to 70 per cent easier between people.

The First Minister stressed that the plans for schools to re-open on January 18 still stands, but warned that if changes are needed, “we will set those out as early as possible”.

She added: “We are working on plans for the greater use of testing within schools once the new term gets underway.”

Amid suggestion that the new variant of coronavirus can more easily spread between children and young people, Ms Sturgeon warned that the Scottish Government still has no “definitive or conclusive” evidence that this is the case.

But the First Minister warned that the doubt around the issue is “influencing our thinking about schools”.

She added: “Any suggestion that it may be more likely to infect young people adds to that caution."

But opposition parties have called for schools to remain shut while the new strain is spreading easily across Scotland.

The latest statistics show that 2,045 new cases have been confirmed in Scotland in the last 24-hour period – the highest on record since the start of the pandemic.

Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie 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.

“It’s also clear that much more needs to be done to support people to self-isolate, which is a vital part of test and protect. Adequate financial and practical support could drive up compliance and put the brakes on an infection rate which is spiralling out of control.”

Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard warned the fight against Covid-19 is “at a critical moment”. He added: “The welcome approval of the Oxford vaccine announced today now means that the challenge is to accelerate the vaccination programme, and with urgency.

“But the recent increase in cases and the spread of the new strain demands clear and rigorous control measures in the meantime. As the First Minister has said, teachers and other school staff are due to return to work in a few days time still without routine testing in place; without priority for vaccination, and still concerned about the January the 18th full return being safe.

“Parents will hear the First Minister’s comments today and wonder if schools really will be able to return to face-to-face teaching after January 18. Many of them are worried about the implications of a return to home learning.”