Health Secretary Jeane Freeman has said a decision on giving children a Christmas holiday extension will be made as soon as possible, after a leaked document revealed the proposal is under consideration.
Ms Freeman said a decision is yet to be reached on the plan to add almost two more weeks to the festive break to limit the spread of the coronavirus following the relaxation of restrictions around Christmas.
The proposal has been outlined in a memo being examined by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla).
Council leaders were asked for their thoughts on the 2020 festive break taking place between December 18 and January 11.
Scottish school holidays vary from council to council but under normal circumstances the winter break typically runs from a few days before Christmas with a return in the first week of January.
The Scottish Government are exploring a national extension to Christmas holidays covering December 18 2020 to January 11 2021, either on the basis of schools remaining closed or the temporary introduction of remote learning.”
The document also proposed schools moving to a temporary remote learning system following the relaxation of strict coronavirus rules over five days in December.
The memo read: “The Scottish Government are exploring a national extension to Christmas holidays covering December 18 2020 to January 11 2021, either on the basis of schools remaining closed or the temporary introduction of remote learning.
“The Scottish Government officials have indicated that the objectives of an extension would be to ensure that school staff are not involved in contact tracing into the Christmas period.
“An extension would act as a break following the wider relaxation of restrictions over the Christmas period.”
The memo was signed off by Cosla’s policy manager for Children and Young People, Matthew Sweeney, and stated the plan had been discussed at the Scottish Government’s Education Recovery Group meeting this week.
‘Decision hasn’t been reached’
Ms Freeman was asked about the proposal when she hosted the Scottish Government’s daily coronavirus briefing.
Joining the Health Secretary is Scotland’s Chief Nursing Officer, Professor Fiona McQueen. https://t.co/bmz5Of568c
— Scottish Government (@scotgov) November 27, 2020
The Health Secretary said the government wanted to “give people as much notice as possible if there is to be any change at all but at this point that decision hasn’t been reached”.
She said a view based on the advice of the recovery group will be reached “as soon as we can”.
“It would be wrong to overly speculate or jump to conclusions simply because we are looking at different issues,” she said.
“But at the moment, the deputy first minister (Education Secretary John Swinney) and his colleagues will be working through what they think is the best way for schools to enter the Christmas break and come out of the Christmas break, and that applies to colleges and universities as well.”
The most vital thing is that children do not lose out on time in the classroom.”
Jo Bisset, UsForThem Scotland
Parents groups argued that if holidays were extended then the lost time should be made up in the spring.
Jo Bisset, organiser for UsForThem Scotland, which represents 12,000 parents, said “The most vital thing is that children do not lose out on time in the classroom. If schools do close for an additional week over Christmas, then that time must be made up in the spring.”
Providing an update on the latest Covid-19 statistics for Scotland, Ms Freeman said 37 deaths and 969 positive tests have been recorded in the past 24 hours.
It brings the death toll under this measure – of people who first tested positive for the virus within the previous 28 days – to 3,676.
Text message fraud warning
Ms Freeman also issued a warning about fraudsters targeting a text message service for people in the shielding category.
She said the Scottish Government is aware of two incidents when a message was sent by someone pretending to be from the texting service, asking for people’s personal information, and said this is being investigated as a matter of urgency.
“The Scottish Government will never send a text message asking for sensitive personal information or banking details,” she said.
“If you have signed up to the shielding text message service and receive a text asking for financial information or passwords, it is almost certainly a scam.
“Anyone who receives a suspicious text or call of this kind can report it to Advice Direct Scotland and if you are unfortunate enough to have been a victim of a scam you should contact the police by calling 101.”
The Health Secretary reminded people that quarantine rules have been reinstated for travellers into Scotland from Estonia and Latvia, who must self-isolate for 14 days upon arrival as of 4am on Saturday.
The travel ban on visitors to the UK from Denmark will be lifted from 4am on Saturday but people will still be required to isolate for 14 days.
The ban on visitors from Denmark was introduced after the discovery of a new variant of Covid-19 in minks.
Ms Freeman said: “The view of the UK chief medical officers is that the risk associated with Denmark is now receding.”
She added: “While the virus is resurgent around the world there is significant variation between countries and areas and as we’ve seen the situation anywhere can change very rapidly
“That’s one of the huge challenges we face in dealing with this pandemic and it is of course why we continue to advise very strongly against non-essential overseas travel at the moment.”
National Wellbeing Hub
Ms Freeman also paid tribute to the hard work of health and social care staff, who she said have done an “outstanding job in the most challenging and stressful of circumstances”.
She said the Scottish Government is determined to do all it can to support the mental wellbeing of that workforce and urged people to ask for help if they are struggling.
The Scottish Government said more than 53,000 health and social care staff have received psychological support from the National Wellbeing Hub since it was launched in May.
The online hub at promis.scot supports all health and social care workers, including unpaid carers, who need help due to Covid-19, alongside a new 24/7 National Wellbeing helpline.