Children and young people able to play sport again
Children aren’t renowned for taking a keen interest in politics but I’m sure that many of them (and their parents) will have rejoiced at the news emerging from Holyrood this week, when the First Minister announced a date for the resumption of organised sport.
Those children and young people – like the rest of us – haven’t been able to participate in their football, rugby, or tennis clubs in many months due to the necessary restrictions caused by the coronavirus pandemic, and will have keenly felt the absence of seeing friends and teammates, as well as missing out on the health and wellbeing benefits those activities provide.
I know that many parents will have missed going to watch their loved ones taking part in team sport, and it shouldn’t be taken for granted the extra childcare burdens on parents when those extracurricular activities don’t take place – leaving a large void in many weekends and evenings.
Others will have asked why only children and young people are being allowed to return, when there are many thousands of adults across the country who are champing at the bit to get going again.
As with every decision made by the Scottish Government regarding lockdown measures, we had to firstly consider the wider public health implications before coming to a decision. In this case we were encouraged by the fact that this was the eighth week in a row in which the number of deaths from the virus has fallen and that the rate of infection (‘R number’) had lowered significantly across the country in recent weeks, from between 0.7 and 1 at the end of May to between 0.6 and 0.8 this week. At the peak of the epidemic back in April, 660 people died from the virus in a single week. Last week the number of deaths reduced to 49. So the trends are clear and – for all the pain that this virus is still causing and the real risk it still poses – they are positive, and they give us confidence to allow some more freedoms.
Another factor in our thinking was that research has indicated that the transmission level of the virus by children is lower than in adults It was for similar reasons that we were able to announce our intention to open schools up fully in August.
We were also conscious of the imminent approach of school summer holidays and, if possible were keen to ensure that children had the option to be able to spend those holidays outside, playing the sports they love, with the accompanying health and wellbeing benefits they bring.
However, it should be noted that we’re not allowing a ‘free for all’: these activities will be restricted to organised teams and community clubs only, who will be given guidance on the measures that should be taken to keep the risk of spreading infection down to a minimum. For example, we’ll be advising that participants turn up to activities with their own kit and avoid the use of changing rooms and we will continue to focus on the importance of cleaning equipment and maintaining good hand and respiratory hygiene.
There will also be protocols on what to do if someone within a team displays symptoms of coronavirus, to ensure it is safely contained. We’re already working with local authorities and sports governing bodies to ensure that the appropriate support is in place.
I’m afraid that means that- for the time being at least – groups of people can’t just meet up informally, in a park or five a side pitch for a game of their preferred activity. To do so, without the appropriate guidance and advice would create an unnecessarily high infection risk.
Many of you will understandably be wondering when that will change, and more still will wonder when will adults also be allowed to resume playing sport.
I can reassure readers that we are looking to make that happen as soon as we are confident that is safe to do so and expect those things to happen when we enter Phase Four of the lockdown exit . We are continually monitoring the public health advice and will update people on key developments whenever possible.
In the meantime I would echo the First Minister’s message of thanks to everyone for the sacrifices made during lockdown and implore everyone to keep maintaining physical distancing and hygiene measures, participating fully in the test, trace and isolate system, and be careful not to take unnecessary risks.
If we continue to do so then our reward will be the introduction of more measures to allow us to do the things we love and perhaps previously took for granted.