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Covid Update: Face coverings to remain in secondary schools and university lectures to keep a mixed delivery model

By David Porter

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Cases rates, while starting to show a slight decline in Scotland, have been at a level which is still causing concern, especially due to the age range of those requiring hospitalisation.

Speaking at Holyrood today the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon said: "Although the level of infection in Scotland remains too high, there are continuing signs that the recent spike in cases is now slowing down.

"Indeed, we are now seeing early signs - not just that the rate of increase is slowing - but that cases are now actually starting to fall slightly.

"In the past week, more than 70 per cent of cases have been in the under 45s.

"And that’s consistent with the pattern we’ve seen throughout this latest wave.

"However, the picture varies across different age groups – that said, there are broadly positive signs now in all of them."

She continued: "Universities are now returning for a new term.

"That is very welcome – but it also creates some additional risk.

"As a precaution at this stage, colleges and universities won’t be holding large in-person lectures for now.

"Instead, there will be a mix of online and in-person learning – with institutions themselves deciding the level of in-person teaching that they will offer during this term.

"In addition, physical distancing will remain in place on campuses and face coverings will be required in indoor public spaces.

"We are also – of course - encouraging students to get tested regularly.

"Above all, we are strongly encouraging students to get vaccinated if they haven’t done so already.

"Mobile vaccination units are being deployed in universities and colleges during freshers’ weeks, and vaccination will continue to be made available throughout the term.

"Health Board web pages will contain details of local drop-in clinics and also clinics operating within colleges or universities.

"We are also continuing to work with local authorities to make schools and childcare centres as safe as possible - for example, though support for the use of carbon dioxide monitors and improved ventilation.

"We have also received further advice from the Advisory sub-group on Education, and I want to take the opportunity today to highlight two points arising from that advice."

She explained: "First, we indicated at the start of term that secondary schools pupils would need to wear face coverings in class for the first six weeks of term, subject to a review at that point.

"Given the continuing high levels of infection still being experienced at this stage, the Advisory sub-group has advised that this requirement should remain in place until the October holidays, and be reviewed again then.

"I know how unpopular this is with many pupils and I completely understand why.

"But for now, it remains a prudent and a necessary precaution.

"Second, we intend to clarify an aspect of guidance on contact tracing in schools, to help ensure fuller understanding of the process.

"There is no change in advice for close contacts thought to be at high risk of having Covid.

"They will continue to be advised to self-isolate until they have returned a negative PCR test.

"For children and young people, a high-risk contact is most likely to be a household member, or someone they have stayed overnight with.

"However, we will clarify guidance on the letters that schools send to lower-risk contacts.

"These letters should be sent on a targeted basis to those who are most likely to have had low risk contact with someone who has tested positive. "They ensure that parents, staff and pupils are aware of those cases - and the letters offer advice on issues like looking out for symptoms, and using lateral flow testing.

"Our updated guidance may mean, for example, that it is appropriate to send letters to the classmates of a pupil who has tested positive, but not necessarily to everyone in their year group.

"We hope that better targeting will help reinforce the importance of the messages in these letters while minimising undue anxiety.

"In addition, the advice in the letters will be strengthened in one respect.

"They will recommend - to primary and secondary school pupils and staff who receive them - that a lateral flow test is taken before they next return to school.

"That test should be in addition to the regular twice weekly lateral flow testing which is recommended for all secondary school pupils and staff.

"All of these measures reflect our commitment to prioritising the wellbeing of children and young people - and our determination to minimise disruption to education."

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