THE Scottish Government will consider lifting social distancing restrictions in schools, after Nicola Sturgeon revealed that no coronavirus deaths had been recorded in Scotland in the last 24 hours.

The First Minister announced that the Scottish Government would give “specific consideration” to evidence that would support easing safety measures in schools if it was safe so more pupils could return at once.

Sturgeon also said she would “have concerns” if any local authority plans for reopening schools meant pupils would spend less than half the time being taught in person.

Speaking at the daily coronavirus briefing, Sturgeon revealed that the latest figures show more than 18,000 people have tested positive for the virus in Scotland. This figure included tests conducted at UK Government sites, as well as NHS Scotland tests, for the first time.

Despite Education Secretary John Swinney’s statement that schools were unlikely to return to normal in the next academic year, Sturgeon dismissed the suggestion the government was planning to keep the mix of home and at-school learning for the duration of the school year.

“It is absolutely not the case that we are planning for blended learning, with children learning at home for part of the school week, to last a year, or anything like it,” she said.

“On the contrary, we do not want blended learning to last a single moment longer than is absolutely necessary and so we will be working with councils to return schools to normal as quickly as we can.

“We want young people to have face-to-face teaching for 100% of the school week as soon as possible.

“And to that end, our regular three-weekly reviews of the coronavirus regulations will now include specific consideration of the evidence and data relating to transmission of the virus within schools and among young people.

“Where that suggests that safety restrictions can be lifted or eased without putting pupils and teachers at undue risk, we will do so.”

Asked about the amount of time pupils will actually spend in school after the phased reopening from August 11, Sturgeon said: “I would certainly have concerns about anything under 50%, although different councils will have different circumstances, but we want to maximise that.”

Swinney earlier told the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland programme that the two-metre distance rules underpinned the “absolutely essential strategic priority of the government” of reducing the spread of coronavirus and that it would not be dropped in schools as it “applies in all walks of life”.

He added: “I know there is great debate about the prevalence of coronavirus and its spread amongst young people, but young people aren’t the only people that are in schools.

“There are plenty of adults in schools, and surrounding schools. So we can’t view schools as just gatherings of young people that are essentially apart from the wider community.”

Scottish Conservative education spokesman Jamie Green accused the government of “confusion, mixed messaging, and a chronic lack of leadership”, and added: “As a result of this shambolic incompetence, right across Scotland children will miss out on huge swathes of education, and parents will simply be unable to return to work under current SNP plans.”

Scottish Labour’s education spokesman Iain Gray said: “We all know this is difficult, but this is fast becoming a complete shambles and the Cabinet Secretary must assure parliament that it is under control.”