THE FIRST Minister has confirmed that schools closing early will not form part of her update to Parliament tomorrow. 

Nicola Sturgeon said action needed to be taken to slow the spread of the new Omicron variant while the booster vaccination programme is accelerated.

However she rejected calls from one teaching union to close schools, saying it was a priority to keep them open safely. 

Ms Sturgeon is to update MSPs on the latest data, and whether there will be any new restrictions, tomorrow. 

HeraldScotland: Nicola Sturgeon will address the nation in a televised briefing tomorrowNicola Sturgeon will address the nation in a televised briefing tomorrow

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She is also expected to make a televised address later in the evening, following on from Boris Johnson's declaration of an "Omicron emergency" on Sunday.

A total of 186 cases of the Omicron variant of coronavirus have been confirmed across Scotland so far, although this is thought to be a significant under-estimate of the true picture.

The UK's first death linked to the new variant was reported today, and Ms Sturgeon said it was "inevitable" that more would follow in Scotland.

The first minister said Omicron was "going much faster than anything we have encountered before", with case numbers doubling every two to three days, and said it was a "near certainty" that it would be the dominant strain of the virus within the week.

She added: "In my judgement, as well as speeding up the booster vaccination programme we need to slow down the virus while we do that.

"This has been going on for almost two years, people are thoroughly exhausted with it and they want to get on with their lives, so we will think carefully about anything that we are going to ask people to do.

"We will be proportionate, we will be as targeted as possible and we will be seeking to minimise the further impact on people's lives."

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The EIS said it wanted to see schools close on Friday to avoid pupils and staff being exposed to the new variant before mixing during the Christmas holidays.

However, Ms Sturgeon said school closures would not be on the table when ministers meet tomorrow.

She said: "Any leader that stands and says 100% that anything can be ruled out forever is not being straight with you, but we are not considering the closure of schools.

"Children have suffered disproportionately in this. The priority is to keep schools open and keep them open safely - I am not considering at this stage closing schools early or not reopening schools."

Scottish Conservative Shadow Education Secretary Oliver Mundell MSP welcomed the reassurances but said they would not stop parents being concerned.

He said: “While it is welcome news that the First Minister is not considering closing schools early, the SNP’s mixed messaging will do nothing to reduce the frustration and confusion among parents, pupils and teachers.

“The SNP have U-turned on Covid restrictions in schools so many times, that few people will be reassured by the First Minister’s announcement today – especially given Humza Yousaf’s comment on radio this morning that closing them early was an option.

“Our children’s education has been disrupted too much already by the pandemic, so closing schools must be the very last resort. If it’s not, then the SNP have their priorities all wrong.

“If the Scottish Government decide they absolutely have no option but to close schools a few days early for Christmas, then they must firmly guarantee that they will reopen again in early January as planned.”

 

It comes after a survey of teachers in Scotland found that most wanted to keep measures aimed at stopping the spread of coronavirus in schools.

The Educational Institute of Scotland’s survey of its members found that only 6% wanted facemasks to no longer be required in secondary schools, with 55% wanting them to be retained throughout the winter.

Larry Flanagan, the union’s general secretary, said: “The emergence of new variants such as Omicron, coupled with the higher risk of illness during the winter months, will only increase the risk of Covid infection spreading through school communities.”

The poll of more than 16,000 teachers across Scotland also found that 30% did not believe their working space was well ventilated to combat the risk of Covid-19 spreading.

Less than a third of teachers (32%) believed their school had a procedure in place to raise concerns about inadequate ventilation.

According to the survey, 47% of teachers felt “very safe” or “somewhat safe” in schools with current mitigations. Some 19% told the union they “felt neither safe nor unsafe”.

About two-thirds (67%) of respondents said regular coronavirus risk assessments have been carried out by councils, although another 23% did not know if risk assessments had been carried out.

A Scottish Government paper has raised alarm with its worst-case projection that cases could reach as many as 25,000 every day by December 20.

According to scientists’ projections, in the best-case scenario there would be 1,250 new infections a day.

On Friday First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she would “bust a gut” to ensure schools remained open amid a surge in cases.

“I can’t stand here and say that no class will be disrupted and no school will have periods of disruption – what I am talking about here is what we had before, which is ‘blanket schools are closed’,” she said

“Nobody wants that. I will bust a gut and do whatever – even if people hate me for asking adults to do more than they want to do – to keep schools open in that general sense.”

Analysis by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) found two doses of the AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines provided “much lower” levels of protection against Omicron when compared with the Delta variant.

But the UKHSA said preliminary data showed vaccine effectiveness “considerably increased” in the early period after a booster dose, providing around 70% to 75% protection against symptomatic infection.