Speaking at his daily update briefing today, the Prime Minister finally addressed the growing calls for schools to shut over the virus. He stated he “completely” understood the desires of parents for schools to shut down. Mr Johnson said: “I understand completely where people are at with that, we’re keeping it under continuous review.”
The Prime Minister’s statements come as a teachers’ union has warned of a “rising sense of panic” surrounding schools being kept open to teachers and students.
NASUWT, representing headteachers and teachers, has called on the Government to provide clearer guidance as to how schools should proceed in this time of crisis.
Acting general secretary Chris Keates said: “All of the announcements continue to be couched as guidance or advice, which is simply serving to increase anxiety and uncertainty.
“The NASUWT has to date been advising our members in the context of the advice issued by governments and administrations and public health bodies across the UK.
“However, the lack of clear information with regard to the steps to protect teachers, headteachers and other staff working in schools in the context of commentators constantly referring to the threats posed by children carrying COVID-19 is causing chaos and confusion and placing intolerable pressure on all staff in schools and their families.”
And a petition which demands the Government shut schools has gained hundreds of thousands of signatures as unrest grows.
At the time of writing, the #ClosetheSchools petition has gained close to 700,000 signatures from concerned parents and teachers.
Parliament considers all petitions which gain more than 100,000 signatures.
The petition has therefore crossed the Parliamentary threshold in terms of support, and must be raised in the Commons.
It said: “We would like the government to at least consider closing schools/colleges down in the coming weeks or as soon as possible, in addition to taking necessary actions to prevent further spread.
“We would like the Government or Parliament to enforce this action due to the growing fear among parents and students that attend school.
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“The ability to focus or concentrate is affected in addition to the growing fears of the Coronavirus. In our view, the government and health officials around the world are more ‘reactive’ rather than ‘proactive’.
“This will result in more spread as time is given for the virus to do so. We hope to come to an agreement as soon as possible in a timely manner.”
But Mr Johnson promised that free school meals would continue whether or not pupils were at school.
He added: “As we come to the decision on schools we will have plans ready to go on that, Gavin Williamson education secretary has a plan to make sure that parents with kids who are eligible for free school meals get the compensation or the treatment they need one way or another.”
Schools will remain open for the time being, however, children who have a cough will be told to go home to stop the spread of the virus.
If children cannot be sent home immediately, teachers will be required to isolate them in a room alone with an open window until they can be collected.
Advice from the Government suggests these children, whilst waiting, should use a separate bathroom, which should then be disinfected after use.
Other countries including Portugal, Spain, Ireland, France, Italy and Denmark have closed down all schools as part of their lockdown procedures.
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