THE Deputy First Minister has said Scottish schools willl be "the last thing to close" as was pressed on a call today by the chief of the country's largest teaching union.

John Swinney said pupils had seen "to much interruption" over the course of the pandemic. 

Asked about the EIS call today, Swinney told the BBC that the government wants to maintain education.

Appearing on the BBC Scotland's Sunday Show, Swinney said: "The thing I have to say at the outset in answering these points, and I will come onto that particular question, is that obviously we've got to address Parliament on all of these specific details and I can't be specific about what I say.

"But we made clear we want to maintain education, that will be the last thing that we frankly close. We want to maintain school education as we think young people have suffered so much interruption to their school education."

Ministers are under pressure from the teachers' union EIS as fears rise that more staff and pupils will catch the virus. The EIS wants decision-makers to consider shutting schools by Friday.

Larry Flanagan, the general secretary of EIS, warned that more schools would have to close or move to remote learning if they cannot be staffed.

He told the Sunday Times: “The Scottish government should consider an early Christmas closure if a firebreak is needed to fend off a new wave of infection. There is no threat to next May’s exams as yet but the situation is being monitored and discussed.”

Many schools are due to break up for Christmas and New Year next week.

Swinney had previously warned over the weekend that further restrictions could be introduced this week. These could affect events with large crowds, such as concerts and football matches.

The news emerged as Scotland recorded 4087 new Covid cases yesterday. On Friday 5018 cases were reported. Both figures are far higher than the recent daily average of 2800 cases.

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The total number of Omicron cases in nine of Scotland’s 14 health boards yesterday reached 121. Public Health Scotland said test results were delayed, so the real figure will be higher.

A further 12 deaths were also confirmed while the number of people in hospital fell to 552, with 53 patients in intensive care. A ward at Inverness's Raigmore Hospital was also recently closed to new admissions because of a Covid outbreak.

Nicola Sturgeon warned on Friday that reported numbers were only the “tip of the iceberg” and predicted a “tsunami” of infections, a view supported by scientists. She is to make a statement to parliament on Tuesday.

Swinney said the government was looking at whether more steps are needed to try to arrest the virus’s circulation. He asked the public to reduce the chance of this by reducing social interaction and taking lateral flow tests.

“We are encouraging people to take these steps so that we can protect the precious time that is Christmas time for families,” he said. “We know how hard that was last year and we want to avoid a repeat of that.”

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The Scottish Government estimates that Omicron cases will double every two to three days and are likely to add up to more than half of all cases by next week.

As of Saturday, all household contacts of any confirmed coronavirus case must isolate for ten days regardless of vaccination status, even with a negative PCR test.

Non-household contacts of someone with Covid can leave isolation if they have had two vaccine shots and a negative PCR test.

School holidays have previously been extended in Scotland earlier in the pandemic including the October break last year.

The crisis has also seen periods of blanket school closures with pupils being taught at home in online classes by teachers and by their parents.