Parents across Lothian have been sent a letter via schools from Katie Dee, NHS Lothian’s interim director of public health and health policy, telling them they should be cautious over the Easter break in allowing their children to mix.
Last summer, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon relaxed rules for young children to allow them to play together in groups outside due to the lower risk of transmission among under-12s.
Primary schools returned to full-time learning two weeks ago and contact sports such as football or hockey are now allowed to resume, with a cap of 15 children in a “bubble” allowed to train together.
The letter said: “Parents/carers should only allow children to play in small, outdoor groups. Larger gatherings, such as parties, should not currently be happening, even outdoors.
“Even though children are now starting to meet more in the school environment, this does not mean they should meet more outside school. Schools have a lot of safety measures, such as hand hygiene stations, limiting mixing of pupils and regular cleaning regimes, that reduce risks, which are not as easily followed outwith the school environment.
“Although children under-12 are not counted towards households or numbers when meeting outside, working within the ‘spirit’ of the guidance and limiting the mixing of our children is the best way to help us all get back to ‘normal’ as quickly as possible.”
One Edinburgh parent who received the letter told The Scotsman: “This just seems unfair. This is the second year in lockdown and for many children, they are coming up to the second birthday where they have not been able to celebrate in a normal way.
"Sending out edicts telling parents that even an outdoor party isn’t allowed – when most people are being sensible and only having a few children in a garden or a park – is ridiculous.
“My nine-year-old son is allowed to meet up to 15 children, plus a coach, to play football at his club now. So why does it make a difference if he has a small party outside with five or six of the same children, who he is also in class with all day?”
Many children’s party organisers have in recent months switched to hosting outdoor events, including activities such as den building and outdoor games.
Jo Bisset, organiser for UsForThem Scotland, said: “This is the last thing parents and children need. It’s been made abundantly clear that children don’t generally suffer from or transmit the virus, and that the outdoors is a safe place.
“Parents are sick of being handed these edicts and would rather the government got on with repairing the huge harm it has caused to children by keeping them locked up for the last year.”
Guidance published on the Scottish Government’s website states: “Children aged 11 and under meeting outdoors are not subject to the limit on households or numbers. Children aged 11 and under do not need to physically distance.”