Covid-19 Lockdown: Next Steps

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 21st May 2020.

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The First Minister:

—and some men. I will not go any further than that, Presiding Officer.

For restaurants and bars, opening of outdoor spaces will come earlier than opening of indoor spaces.

The route map also indicates when places of worship might reopen, and it makes it clear that while our current guidance on funerals—among the most distressing and heartbreaking rules of the current lockdown—unfortunately remains unchanged for now, we hope to relax it as we move from phase 1 into phase 2.

Finally, I know that a key priority for parents, children and young people is education and early-years services. We confirm that we are planning to allow universities and colleges to have a phased return next term, with a combination of remote learning and some limited on-campus learning.

On schools, early learning and childcare, we have published today the report of the education recovery group, which is chaired by the Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills, and includes representatives of councils, parent and teacher organisations and trade unions. Through that approach, we have reached an agreed position that will help us to build confidence among pupils, parents and teachers about a safe return to formal schooling. The report can be read in full on the Scottish Government’s website. I stress that all its conclusions are subject to health advice, and to appropriate measures on physical distancing, testing and provision of protective equipment, where required, being in place.

I will summarise the key points. Teachers and other school staff will return during June to prepare classrooms for the new term and a different model of learning. During June and over the summer, an increased number of children will have access to critical childcare such as has been provided for the children of key workers during lockdown. We will provide, where possible, transition support for children going into primary 1 or moving from primary 7 to secondary school.

From 11 August, all schools will reopen. However, to allow appropriate physical distancing, children will return to a blended model of part-time in-school and part-time at-home learning.

Childminders can reopen during phase 1 and, over the summer, all early-years childcare providers will reopen, subject to necessary health measures. Capacity will be prioritised for the children of key workers, early learning and childcare entitlement and children who are in need. The Care Inspectorate will provide further guidance, in due course.

The arrangements will not represent a complete return to normality by August, but we judge them to be the most sensible approach that we can plan for at this stage. To reflect the fact that children will still be doing part of their learning at home, we will invest a further £30 million to provide laptops for disadvantaged children and young people, to enable them to study online.

At this stage, I want to take a moment to say a huge “Thank you” to parents, carers and teachers who are doing so much to ensure that children continue to learn during the lockdown period.

I want also to send a special message to children and young people themselves, on the off-chance that any of you are watching a parliamentary statement. I know how difficult it has been for you not to be at school and with your friends, but you have been magnificent during this lockdown period. From the bottom of my heart, I say “Thank you” to each and every one of you.

As I have briefly summarised—I know that all members will take the time to study the document in full—the route map sketches out, with as much detail as we can provide at this stage, how and in what stages we might move back to some normality, as we continue to live with the virus, which we will have to do for some time to come. The route map does not yet set definite dates for all phases, because it cannot do so. We know that the virus is, and will remain, unpredictable.

Of course, to a great extent, the timing of the changes—of moving from one phase to another—will depend on all of us. It will depend on our continued ability to suppress the virus even as we move out of lockdown. Our emergence from lockdown will be faster or slower, depending on the level of continued success that we have in suppressing the virus.

It is also worth saying that in the weeks ahead, our messages will inevitably have to become more nuanced and complex, as we strike the difficult balance between protecting public health and allowing more personal choice. Straightforward strict rules will gradually be replaced by the need for all of us to exercise judgment and responsibility. However, some key advice—for example, on isolating if you have symptoms of Covid, strict physical distancing, washing of hands, and face coverings—will remain the same throughout.

We must continue to recognise that every decision that we take as individuals has an impact on others and on our collective wellbeing. That sense of collective responsibility has been so much appreciated by me and, I know, by all of us throughout the whole period. Indeed, it is only because people across the country have so overwhelmingly observed the lockdown restrictions that we are now able to plan ahead.

It will be absolutely vital that we all continue to abide by whatever rules are in place at every stage. For the moment—until 28 May—I must stress that our key public health guidance as of now remains unchanged. Please stay at home except for essential purposes, such as daily exercise, going to essential work that cannot be done at home, or shopping for essential items such as food or medicine.

You can exercise more than once a day, but when you leave the house, stay more than 2m from other people, and, for now, do not meet up with households other than your own. Please wear a face covering if you are in a shop or on public transport, and remember to wash your hands thoroughly and regularly.

Finally, if you or someone else in your household has symptoms of Covid-19, please stay at home completely. Those symptoms are: a high temperature, a persistent cough, and a change in or loss of the sense of smell or taste.

I am very aware that talk of emerging from lockdown, and the nice weather that we have enjoyed in recent days, make the restrictions even harder, but I want to stress that abiding by them is what makes it possible for us to think about relaxing them. By doing the right thing, all of us have helped to slow the spread of the virus and to protect the NHS from being overwhelmed, and we have, despite the grim numbers of people dying, helped to save lives.

As a result of all of that personal sacrifice on the part of everybody, for the common good, we are now able—gradually, cautiously, and in phases—to plan our move back to some normality. I thank everyone for making that prospect possible.