As thousands of children returned to class for the first time in almost nine weeks, the First Minister voiced hope more will be back next month.
Nursery children and P1 to P3 pupils were reunited with their classmates and teachers on Monday morning, as the first phase of the return to school began.
A limited number of secondary school pupils also returned to school for essential practical coursework.
Nicola Sturgeon described the return as a “milestone” in the emergence from lockdown and said she hoped more children would be back in class before the end of March.
But she said it was unlikely the next group of pupils would be back before March 15, and that their return depended on people continuing to stick to the restrictions in place to curb the spread of coronavirus.
Thanking school and nursery staff for preparing for the return and continuing remote teaching for other pupils, Ms Sturgeon said: “Today is undoubtedly a important milestone and a very welcome milestone, that first step to restoring greater normality to our lives.
“I know it will be a particular relief to many parents across the country.
“But it’s really important that we remember that it has been made possible only by the sacrifices we have all made to bring numbers down. Our headroom and room for manoeuvre remains limited.
“We hope that more children will be able to back to in-school education next month but our ability to achieve that depends on our ability to continue to supress the virus.”
She urged parents in particular against increasing contact with other people as schools returned, by gathering at school gates or seeing it as an opportunity to return to work.
And she said she had “reasonable confidence” that pupils could return safely without the R number soaring again.
But she said a decision on more pupils returning could not be made before careful monitoring of the first group’s return over the next couple of weeks.
She said: “We have said it is unlikely that any more children will be going back to school before March 15 and obviously at the start of March we will set out our updated thinking on that.
“This is about being deliberately cautious.”
Send transmission ‘through the roof’
Allowing all schoolchildren back into the classroom at once could, she said, send transmission “through the roof”.
She warned: “If we do this in a way that sends the virus out of control again, then what we will be facing will be all schools being shut again, and even the kids we have got back today not being in school.”
Chief medical officer Dr Gregor Smith said it was important the impact of the return to school was monitored.
He said: “Over the next three weeks we will be tracking very, very carefully what happens with transmission.
“If everybody plays their part and if everybody makes sure they are very cautious in terms of limiting the ability of this virus to transmit between people, I am fairly confident we will get to a position in three or four weeks’ time where we can start to consider the next stages.”