Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 4th January 2021.

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The First Minister:

Yes, I agree. As everybody knows, we have been determined, from the moment that schools reopened in August until now, to keep schools open. That has been contentious at times and legitimate concerns have been raised. However, at every stage I have been satisfied—on the basis of the advice that I have been given and my understanding of the situation and the data that we have gathered and that has been published by Public Health Scotland and the Office for National Statistics—that schools could safely reopen. Although not all teachers and parents have agreed with that, I have felt able to look them in the eye and say that that is my clear judgment, based on the advice that I have been given.

That has changed, at this time, for the two reasons that I set out: the high level of community transmission and the uncertainty among the scientific community about the impact of the new variant on transmission among young people. Some evidence or opinion that I have seen, read and tried to understand suggests that the new variant might be more likely to infect young people. Others think that that might be only an apparent effect, because in England during the November lockdown schools were open while many of the places to which adults would go were closed. We need to understand that more and I hope that we will have a greater understanding of that in the weeks to come.

There can be no greater responsibility than that of making sure that the schools to which we send our children are safe. Therefore, in order to get schools open again—as I desperately want to do and will strive to do as quickly as possible—I need to be satisfied that I can say to teachers and parents that it is safe to do so. We will be looking at all those issues very carefully.

Before I touch briefly on the other point that Patrick Harvie raised, I will say that we all have a part to play here. If we all abide by and accept the tough restrictions that we are setting out today, we can bring community transmission down. That creates the best possible conditions for getting schools back open.

I agree with Patrick Harvie that we need a package of support for parents over the next period. The Government will play a part in that, and we will work with businesses to ensure that they do, too. We will be working with councils, with additional resources to make sure that support can be made available.