Sturgeon: Scotland's Covid-19 restrictions to remain
Covid-19 restrictions in Scotland are to remain unchanged, Nicola Sturgeon confirmed, as she said the "significant fall" in infection levels the country has seen in recent weeks had now "levelled off".
The First Minister confirmed a meeting of her cabinet earlier on Tuesday had decided that the remaining baseline measures would stay in place "for now".
While she said Scotland "may be close to the time when face coverings no longer need to be worn in the class room", she added that "we have not yet reached that stage".
The issue of wearing face coverings in school will be considered again on February 8, Ms Sturgeon added.
Updating MSPs at Holyrood, the First Minister said: "No-one wants young people to have to wear face coverings in the class room for a moment longer than necessary.
"But given the current uncertainty about infection trends in the immediate future, and the relatively high levels of Covid in the younger age groups, continued caution is prudent at this stage."
Her comments came as she revealed that 26 cases of the new BA.2 Omicron sub-variant have so far been confirmed in Scotland.
She stressed there was no evidence that this new form of the virus causes more severe disease the Omicron, or has greater ability to escape the immunity conferred by vaccines or previous infection.
Ms Sturgeon added though that it "does appear to have the ability to outrun the main Omicron variant, which may indicate that it is more transmissible" and that investigations into this were ongoing.
The First Minister told Holyrood that overall the "most recent data continues to give grounds for optimism", with the First Minister saying that "the situation we are in now is much less severe than we had thought it might be".
She added that the fall in cases over the first three weeks of January was "now reflected in a fall in the number of people being admitted to hospital".
Last week, 602 patients with Covid-19 were admitted to hospital, down from 768 in the week ending January 21.
The latest figures also showed 1,177 people in hospital have Covid - down from 1,394 a week ago - with the number in intensive care also decreasing.
Ms Sturgeon, speaking the day after a relaxation of the requirement for home working, told MSPs: "We can continue to be optimistic, as we look ahead to spring.
"Case levels are likely to remain high for some time - and may increase further as a result of the recent easing of protections.
"But there are good grounds for confidence that we are again entering a calmer phase of the pandemic."
On the issue of face coverings in schools, Scottish Tory leader, Douglas Ross, said: "Adults can go to the pub and not wear a face mask, but pupils in the classroom have to."
"The First Minister said in her statement, 'no one wants young people to have to wear face coverings in the classroom for a moment longer than necessary'.
"So, First Minister, just what needs to happen for your Government to remove the requirement for face coverings in our classrooms?"
"What I narrated here was a situation that, because of the sensible, proportionate measures that have been taken, is much better than it would have been," the First Minister said.
"Let me point out a couple of important differences; firstly, adults have a choice about going to the pub and mixing with other people - children don't have a choice about going to school and mixing with other people and, secondly, children are less vaccinated than adults because the vaccination of children was recommended by the JCVI at a much later stage.
"These are all the reasons why it is right to continue to take a precautionary approach to the protection of children."
Mr Ross also hit out at a Bill introduced by the Scottish Government which would extend some emergency powers put in place during the pandemic, including the ability to close schools and businesses, along with return to lockdown, should there be another public health emergency.
Mr Ross described the proposed legislation as a "power grab".
"The Covid recovery and reform Bill, incidentally, will bring public health protection powers in Scotland into line with public health protection powers that have been in place in England under a Conservative Government for the last 10 years."