IN the Scottish Government's daily coronavirus briefing Nicola Sturgeon gave details about the phased return of pupils to schools.

Today, pupils in P1 to P3 along with some secondary school pupils needing to complete practical work for qualifications returned to classrooms.

The First Minister said in the briefing that the next date the Scottish Government will possibly announce more pupils returning to school will be March 2 but there are not likely to be more year groups returning before March 15.

The Scottish Government plans to review data from this first phase of pupils returning to classrooms which will then inform how they proceed with any more pupils going back.

While the approach of the UK Government is different for schools in England - with Boris Johnson expected to announce that all pupils will return on March 8 in his road map out of lockdown restrictions - Sturgeon said the UK approach would be "broadly similar" to the phased return now taking place in devolved nations.

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She did however say that returning all pupils at once was not the right approach at the moment.

She said: “I think if we were to do that right now, we would send transmission through the roof again very quickly because of all the interactions.

“That’s not about fear of transmission inside schools as much as the overall interactions that would spark in the wider population.”

She added: “We think what we are doing today, a couple weeks earlier than any return in England - but on a very carefully, cautious basis, allows us to make the start to that progress – it allows us to assess just what the impact of it will be, and hopefully it means that later in March, not before the 15th but hopefully from then on, we can start to see more children go back to school.

“If we do this in a way that sends the virus out of control again then what we’ll be facing is all schools being shut again and even the kids we’ve got back today, not being in school.”

The First Minister warned that a strategy of “sustainability” is key, saying that with the R number in Scotland estimated to be between 0.7 and 0.9, the situation “gives us very limited headroom” to allow people to come into contact.

She added: “Hopefully, what will happen over the next two to three weeks is cases will come down further because the rest of us stick to lockdown, vaccination rates go up and we become more confident about the impact on transmission on vaccination, we become confident that the partial return to school hasn’t had a really negative impact on transmission, so we will feel confident then about getting the next tranche of kids back to school.

“I think that is the more sensible and more sustainable way of trying to do this in a way that’s going to stick. That after a year of this misery, that’s really the important thing – getting us out of this lockdown in a way that sticks and doesn’t have us go back into lockdown.”

The National: Scotland's chief medical officer Dr Gregor SmithScotland's chief medical officer Dr Gregor Smith

Chief medical officer, Dr Gregor Smith, said he was "absolutely delighted" that some children have been able to return today but said people still need to adhere to lockdown rules in order for them to be lifted sooner.

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He said: “As soon as children are back in school, it allows the rest of the population just a little bit more freedom to act and the possibility, if we’re not careful, that they create more opportunities for the virus to transmit between them.

“That's why it is really important that we take a cautious and sustainable approach to the return of schools just now. Over the next three weeks, we will be tracking very, very carefully exactly what happens with transmission – are infections changing at all and if so, where are infections changing, how are we seeing the locus of cases where people have been coming together.

“At that point in time we will be able to make a decision as to whether the modelling that we have so very carefully examined in the lead-up to this return, is exactly tracking up as we would expect.”

The First Minister is due to set out the Scottish Government's plans for a gradual lifting of the current lockdown at Holyrood tomorrow, a day after the Prime Minister outlines the UK Government’s road map.