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Coronavirus / Uncertainty over whether students may be able to go home for Christmas

John Swinney cutting the ribbon at the Anderson High School site. Photo: Chris Cope/Shetland NewsDeputy first minister and education secretary John Swinney cutting the ribbon at the Anderson High School site in September 2018. Photo: Chris Cope/Shetland News

THE SCOTTISH Government isn’t ruling out the prospect of students being told not to return home at Christmas.

First minister Nicola Sturgeon, however, said that the government “will do everything we can” to set out a plan for students.

This could include a phased end to the term and a staggered start after the New Year – while testing could also play a part.

Deputy first minister John Swinney told BBC Scotland that if coronavirus was not under control by Christmas then it was a “realistic possibility” that students could be asked to not to return home.

Sturgeon said the government wanted to be “frank” with people – something she said was better than giving out false assurances.

“Be in no doubt, we want students to be able to return home safely for Christmas,” she said on Monday during her daily coronavirus briefing.

“The really difficult thing in all of this is that we are living through an inherently uncertain and unpredictable pandemic, and that means we can’t always give the absolute cast iron certainty on anything right now that I know people desperately want.”

Highlands and Islands Students’ Association has called on the government to let students home for Christmas.

President Florence Jansen said: “Many of our students would not have returned to their accommodation if they had not been encouraged to do so by the government, and especially if they thought that they would not be allowed to return home for Christmas as a result.

“While many students across the University of the Highlands and Islands are already engaged with online learning, this decision could be detrimental to those that are on campus and shows a complete disregard of the unique demographic of students studying in the Highlands and Islands.

“Currently, we’re also seeing a lack of clarification on term two teaching requirements, which is only adding to the uncertainty of our students and staff.

“We need to protect our communities now more than ever, and it’s not just up to our universities and colleges to provide this additional support to our students. We believe that if this possibility becomes a reality, the Scottish Government should provide financial care packages to those students told to stay on campus.

“We’re also calling for asymptomatic testing prior to traveling away from student accommodation to be explored as a possible solution and for increased mental health support should that option fail, especially in the cases where student support teams are on leave.”

Meanwhile a further 1,122 people in Scotland have tested positive for Covid-19, although no new cases have been recorded in Shetland.

One additional person has died.

During her daily briefing Sturgeon also reiterated that travel limitations could be imposed on areas which may see their Covid restrictions eased under a new tier system.

More details on where Shetland will be placed in the tier set-up should be known this week.