Boris Johnson assures parents ‘schools are safe’ for children
Cases of Covid-19 are continuing to soar as a new and highly transmissible strain of the virus spreads across the UK. In a bid to contain the spread areas across the UK are under Tier 3 and Tier 4 restrictions, currently the strictest rules in place in England. Stricter measures are on the horizon, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson saying today he would soon impose tougher restrictions on England.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has refused to rule out another national lockdown – which could plunge England back into the restrictive measures seen in March.
Asked about the prospect of another national lockdown, Mr Hancock acknowledged the current tiered restrictions are not enough to control the spread of the virus.
He said: “We don’t rule anything out, and we’ve shown repeatedly that we will look at the public health advice and we will take the public health advice in terms of what is needed to control the spread of the disease.
“This new variant is much easier to catch, it is much more transmissible, and we’re now seeing the effect of that in lots of different parts of the country, unfortunately.
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“And it means that, whereas the old Tier 3 was able to contain the old variant, that is proving increasingly difficult in all parts of the country.”
Despite the rollout of vaccines, the quickly spreading Covid-19 variant is causing concern.
The R-rate or rate of infection in the UK is currently 1.1 to 1.3, meaning for every 10 people infected with the virus, 11 to 13 others will catch it.
And the growth rate is one to six percent, meaning the number of positive coronavirus cases are growing by that much daily.
Do primary schools and nurseries stay open in national lockdown?
One sticking point in recent days has been the return of pupils to school after the Christmas break.
Teachers unions are calling for schools to remain closed in order to protect pupils and teachers, however, the Prime Minister has said there is no greater risk to those going back to school.
Mr Johnson said the risk to teachers was no greater than to anyone else and the argument for keeping schools open was very powerful.
The Prime Minister said: “The risk to teachers, and of course we will do everything we can to protect teachers, but the risk to teachers is no greater than it is to anyone else.
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“The reasons for wanting to keep schools open I think are very, very powerful.”
Should another national lockdown be put in place, the blanket closure of schools seems unlikely.
Mr Johnson said he regretted the closure of primary schools during the March lockdown due to the importance “for young people to get an education”.
Speaking on Monday, Mr Johnson said: “It’s very important to understand that back in March, one of the things I look back on with the greatest misgivings was the closure of primary schools because it’s so important for young people to get an education.
“That’s why closing primary schools is, for all of us, a last resort. That’s why we are looking at everything else we can possibly do to avoid that.
“I would stress schools are safe and the risk to kids is very, very small.”
Mr Johnson was asked if schools would have to close once again and return to online learning.
He said closing would be a last resort for primary schools given the social and educational damage that can be done to isolated children.
However, he indicated they may need to rethink a plan to reopen secondary schools for pupils aged between 11 and 18.
He said: “It looks as though secondary schools probably play more of a role in the spread of the epidemic than primary schools, so we’ll have to look very hard at what we do with secondary schools later in the month.”
Nurseries have also remained open in Tier 3 and Tier 4, despite primary schools closing in 49 at-risk areas across England.
A spokesman for Mr Johnson said there were currently “no plans” to shut nurseries in the Tier 4 hotspots.
Primary schools are currently closed and taking part in at-home learning across London and in parts of Essex, Kent, East Sussex, Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire.
Some schools across the country have also opted to close after parents and teachers expressed their concerns at returning.
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