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Schools may have to break up early for Christmas after surge in Covid cases

Omicron variant: Expert calls for mask wearing in enclosed spaces

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With the threat of the Omicron variant, there is a real worry that this may impact schools all across the country. Scotland announced that six cases were identified in the country during First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s briefing on Monday.

As well as Scotland, three cases of the new variant were identified in England – prompting concerns that this number could grow higher very quickly.

St Mary’s Church of England Primary in Hereford and Darwen Aldridge Enterprise Studio in Lancashire have both closed for a week due to outbreaks in the school.

An email from the Department for Education has called on schools to test pupils as much as possible in attempting to fight the new variant.

The email said: “We would like all secondary schools to prepare to test their pupils once on-site on return in January.

“We understand that this is a significant additional ask but testing continues to play a vital role in keeping Covid-19 out of schools.”

Ms Sturgeon recently warned that schools were unable to have “seasonal events” with an audience.

Instead, the First Minister urged schools to have alternative plans in place to ensure parents are still able to see things like nativity plays.

The 51-year-old said: “The guidance around schools is under review, we don’t want any restrictions to be in place around schools or early years settings for any longer than necessary.

“I hope children like the rest of us – more than any of the rest of us – will have a more normal Christmas than they did last year.”

Deputy First Minister John Swinney spoke to BBC Good Morning Scotland about the identification of the six cases in Scotland.

He said: “We obviously have some travel history on some of the cases, I don’t have all of that detail available to me at this stage, but on some of the cases we are aware that there is no travel history involved on some of the cases.

“So what that tells us is that there must be a degree of community transmission of this particular strain of the virus in the absence of direct travel connection for some of the cases in the southern African area.

“So that obviously opens up further challenges for us in terms of interrupting the spread of this particular strain of the virus and that will be the focus of the contact tracing operation that is under way already.”

Despite the threat of the new variant, Health Secretary Sajid Javid warned “we’re nowhere near” returning to severe lockdown measures.

Mr Javid said: “We know now those types of measures do carry a very heavy price, both economically, socially, in terms of non-Covid health outcomes such as impact on mental health.”

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He added: “I think people should continue with their plans as normal for Christmas, I think it’s going to be a great Christmas.”

The Health Secretary also spoke of the importance of vaccines in fighting the threat of the virus.

He said: “We know that vaccines work.

“Yes, this new variant may make it less effective or not.

“But the vaccines work, they are our first form of defence and that is why I have also asked our expert advisers on vaccines called JCVI to give me very quick advice on broadening our booster programme.”

However, Prime Minister Boris Johnson vowed that closing schools early was not the plan this Christmas, as he said: “That’s not what we are proposing.

“We believe our measures strike the balance between keeping children in face-to-face learning while ensuring education settings remain as safe as possible while we investigate this variant.

“Education remains one of our top priorities. So obviously we’ll keep all measures under review.”

However, Prime Minister Boris Johnson vowed that closing schools early was not the plan this Christmas, as he said: “That’s not what we are proposing.
“We believe our measures strike the balance between keeping children in face-to-face learning while ensuring education settings remain as safe as possible while we investigate this variant.
“Education remains one of our top priorities. So obviously we’ll keep all measures under review.”

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