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Orkney avoids full lockdown but schools to remain closed

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced that areas in Level Three of COVID-19 restrictions would continue to be monitored carefully.

The people of Orkney should continue to follow Level Three COVID-19 restrictions and guidance — but schools will remain closed to pupils until at least February.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon delivered a sombre New Year message this afternoon at a recalled Holyrood parliament — essentially placing the entire mainland of Scotland into a full March/April 2020-type lockdown.

In delivering a number of new restrictions, which only apply to Level Four areas, Ms Sturgeon outlined that a new, faster spreading variant of the virus made these restrictions necessary.

The new restrictions announced today do not apply to places like Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles, which all remain in Level Three.

However, the situation in these island groups will continue to be monitored carefully, and people should stick to the current Level Three guidance.

The new variant, which is estimated at being 70 per cent more transmissible and could increase the R number — the rate at which an infected individual passes the virus onto another — by as much as 0.7.

Recent analysis suggests that the new variant accounts for almost half of all new cases in Scotland.

While Orkney has avoided the most severe level of restrictions, schools will remain closed to all but the children of key workers and the most vulnerable children and young people.

School holidays had already been extended to the end of this week while, from Monday, January 11, a week of remote learning would then take place.

Orkney Islands Council had been hoping to be permitted to allow schools to remain open due to the low levels of the virus but this announcement appears to have doused these hopes.

A review of this will take place on January 18, but remote learning will take place until at least February 1.

This applies to nurseries, and primary and secondary schools.

Ms Sturgeon said community transmission of the virus must be brought down and the uncertainty surrounding the impact of the new variant on young people flies in the face of the government’s “safety first” approach.

She said that the government were striving to improve the remote learning options for young people and teaching staff, including the distribution of laptops and other devices.

Ms Sturgeon said: “Just as the last places we ever want to close are schools and nurseries, so it is the case that schools and nurseries will be the first places we want to reopen as we re-emerge from this latest period of lockdown. They remain our priority.”

She said that further consideration was being placed on vaccinating school and childcare staff.

For the return of universities and colleges, she said that any further change from the current model of staggered returns by students will also be considered.

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