Covid spike feared as schools return in Scotland

Scots teachers leaders have voiced concern over a potential spike in Covid-19 cases once schools return after the summer holidays this week.

At the same time, education authorities have been told to ensure they have contingency plans in place to cope with what one leading virologist described as “uncharted territory”.

It comes after many families were able to enjoy their first breaks abroad for more than two years, with children meeting others who may have been introduced to Covid variants not previously seen in this country.

The teachers’ union, the EIS, said Covid-19’s impact on schools remains “a significant issue of concern”.

There are fears of a spike in cases when schools return

Teachers are particularly vulnerable to infection, often confined to a room with upwards of 30 children.

Andrea Bradley, the union’s new general secretary, said: “Covid has not gone away, and its impact on schools continues to be a significant issue of concern.

“Clearly, with the return of staff and students to schools following the summer holiday period, when more travel and socialising will have featured for some, there is potential for further outbreaks spreading through the community.

“In the last school year, despite the widescale vaccination programme and other safety mitigations, rates of Covid-19 infection and absence from schools reached unprecedented highs amongst both students and staff.”

Ms Bradley said repeat outbreaks of the virus threaten the “continuity of education.”

She added: ”Health and safety must remain a priority. It is essential that all local authorities have proper procedures in place to assess and minimise this risk, to support staff or students should they become ill, and to ensure continuity of education provision for all young people whilst also ensuring that this is sustainable in terms of teacher workload and wellbeing.”

Hugh Pennington, emeritus professor at Aberdeen University, said that with holidaymakers returning just when pupils are about to go back to their desks, the conditions are in place for a possible spike in infections when schools such as those in Edinburgh and Glasgow resume on Wednesday.

He said: “I am not predicting that we will see a big surge but, on the other hand, I would not be at all surprised if it happens.

“It’s a complicated picture but, as a virologist, I’d say we are entering uncharted territory.

“Many people will be returning from their first holidays abroad in several years and we know from past experience Covid-19 can be transmitted on aircraft.

“If there is someone infected by Covid-19 coming home from holiday on a plane, it’s likely only the people in the row behind that will get it.

“But if there are two or three infected people scattered about a crowded plane, then a lot of their fellow passengers could get it.”

The Scottish Government was asked if it was preparing for a spike in cases once classes resume this week.

A spokesperson said: “Schools continue to be considered low risk settings for outbreaks.

“However, schools and councils are expected to maintain active contingency plans, and key indicators will continue to be monitored closely by the Scottish Government.”

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