Nicola Sturgeon warned businesses to brace themselves for disappointment as she signalled that most existing coronavirus restrictions will remain in place when lockdown is reviewed.
The first minister said she would be taking a “very cautious” approach on easing measures in order to prioritise getting schools back full-time next month.
At her daily coronavirus briefing, Ms Sturgeon gave her strongest hint yet that her Cabinet had rejected the controversial blended learning model, combining very limited access to classrooms with home education, when it had met just an hour or so before.
Ms Sturgeon is expected to confirm schools will return on a full-time basis on August 11 when she announces her plans to the Scottish Parliament shortly.
Her Holyrood statement will also include a review of lockdown restrictions in which she looks set to resist pleas from businesses to relax restrictions on gyms, swimming pools and weddings.
Asked about her Cabinet’s decision on education, Ms Sturgeon said she was “duty bound” to announce the decision to parliament but added that she had not said anything “to suggest we’re going in the opposite direction” to a return to full-time education.
But as she announced that the National Records of Scotland had recorded eight more Covid-19 deaths in the week leading up to Sunday, she warned maintaining anti-coronavirus measures was the price to pay for getting schools back.
Joining the First Minister today is Finance Secretary Kate Forbes and Scotland’s Chief Nursing Officer Professor Fiona McQueen. https://t.co/rG3NriRF8l
— Scottish Government (@scotgov) July 29, 2020
Her statement will mark the Scottish Government’s three-weekly milestone at which it reviews whether to move from phase three to phase four of the routemap out of lockdown.
Ms Sturgeon said she hoped to confirm the pausing of shielding at the end of this month but said it was her “central objective” for the next three weeks to get schools back in action, a priority that would result in businesses being “disappointed”.
The first minister has repeatedly said she does not want a resurgence of the virus to threaten the start of the new term.
There will be, I’m sure, parts of our economy, and people, who will be disappointed tomorrow if changes they want to hear are not happening as quickly as they would like and I recognise that and I am genuinely, as I always have been, sorry about that.”
“Ensuring that those changes can take place, without raising the prevalence of the virus too far, is not going to leave us very much room for many other immediate changes,” Ms Sturgeon said.
“We have to be sensible about the order in which we make changes so we don’t create a situation in which we are doing too much too quickly and therefore giving the virus a chance to overwhelm us again. So there will be, I’m sure, parts of our economy, and people, who will be disappointed tomorrow if changes they want to hear are not happening as quickly as they would like and I recognise that and I am genuinely, as I always have been, sorry about that. I don’t relish any of the implications and consequences of what we are dealing with right now.”
Earlier in the pandemic, Education Secretary John Swinney had proposed the blended model to keep children safe when the virus was more widespread.
But amid a backlash from parents and education experts who were concerned about the impact on pupils, Mr Swinney performed a U-turn and made a return to conventional schooling his priority. The Education Secretary argued that the falling prevalence of Covid-19 had made that objective more achievable.
At her briefing, Ms Sturgeon indicated that she would be able to give a timetable for the opening up of some activities in the future.
But Scottish gym operators have expressed deep frustration that their facilities cannot reopen when those south of the border can, warning of severe job losses.
Similarly, representatives of the multimillion-pound weddings industry have questioned why restrictions are still in place for couples tying the knot when pubs and restaurants have reopened. Current guidance states that no more than 20 people should attend a marriage or civil partnership ceremony.
Ms Sturgeon said she understood businesses’ concerns but did not want to give them “false hope”, adding that getting children back to school was the “top priority”.
Finance Secretary Kate Forbes said “tailored support” to help sectors would be offered.
With the return of professional football on August 1, Ms Sturgeon said she was “interested” in suggestions for trial matches with reduced attendances in the future.
But she added that any move in that direction would have to be made carefully.