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Coronavirus / Covid numbers continue to rise as first minister announces relaxation of classroom restrictions

HIGH school pupils and staff will not be required to wear face coverings in classrooms from 28 February, first minister Nicola Sturgeon has announced.

The long-awaited easing of restrictions in schools comes as Shetland recorded a further 83 Covid infections in the last 24 hours.

The isles now have by far the highest incidence rate of any NHS board area in Scotland, at 1,613 per 100,000 population.

Scotland-wide the incidence rate is at just below 800, with NHS Grampian recording the second highest rate at 992.

Yesterday, the local health board attributed the continuously high infection rate in Shetland to a combination of more people taking lateral flow tests and recording the results, as well as not as many folk not keeping to the Covid guidance as strictly as they used to.

Today (Thursday) interim director of public health Dr Susan Laidlaw added: “We are continuing to see high case numbers in Shetland as we expected earlier in the week.

“We are managing the cases and thankfully, most are asymptomatic or showing very mild symptoms. We’d encourage anyone who isn’t yet fully vaccinated to come forward for their vaccines.

“Additionally, we’d urge the community to continue undertaking lateral flow tests when not showing any symptoms and to seek a PCR test if showing symptoms.”

Announcing the relaxation for mask wearing at in classrooms, Sturgeon said teachers and pupils who wish to continue to wear a face covering should be fully supported in doing so.

Face coverings will still be required in communal areas, subject to future review.

“In recent weeks I have promised to keep parliament and school communities updated on mitigations within schools – including the use of face coverings within classrooms,” Sturgeon said.

“I have been clear that we do not want to keep these measures in place for any longer than is necessary, but that we must continue to be led by scientific and expert advice.

“This change represents a further step in allowing our children and young people to return to a more normal school experience after many months of sacrifice.”

Responding to the announcement, the Liberal Democrats’ education spokesperson Willie Rennie said the measure needed to be supported by extra money for ventilation measures in classrooms.

“For some teachers, parents and pupils today’s announcement will be a source of anxiety,” Rennie said.

“We need proper ventilation in every classroom. The First Minister should announce fresh financial support so that schools can install air filters in every classroom, tackle Covid build up and make our schools safer for pupils and staff alike.

“This will help not just with Omicron but with future outbreaks and education performance more generally.

“If there is evidence to justify air filters for 2,000 classes there is evidence to justify them for all classes. No one should be left behind.”