Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has said he would like to see all children back at school from next month, but admits that things will need to move forward “carefully”.
Speaking to Sky’s Sophy Ride on Sunday, Sir Keir said: “Ideally I’d like to see all schools back open on 8 March and all children back in schools on 8 March.
“I’ve been worried through the pandemic, a number of people have, about the impact being out of school has on particularly vulnerable children, and the attainment gap is getting bigger. So ideally 8 March.
“We’ll have to see where the data is, where the science is, but that’s what we should be working towards. If that means more testing, if that means Nightingale classrooms, if it means other measures, let’s do that because I want to get our kids back into school.”
Sir Keir’s comments come amid speculation that Prime Minister Boris Johnson is still aiming to get schools open on 8 March.
Ahead of an announcement about the roadmap for easing the coronavirus lockdown on Monday, Downing Street refused to be drawn on specific reports that more extensive outdoor socialising could be allowed by Easter, including suggestions that two households will be allowed to meet outside.
The Labour leader says he wants to see a “cautious, careful” exit from the latest coronavirus lockdown by Mr Johnson, urging the prime minister to publish the science behind the decisions he makes.
He said: “We all want this to be the last lockdown so we’ve got to come out of it in a measured way that makes sure we’re not back where we started in a number of weeks or months. So roll out slowly, carefully, follow the science.
Sir Keir added: “And make sure the support is there for business. They’ve got this far; they need to survive beyond the next set of restrictions.”
On Monday, Boris Johnson will unveil how England will exit lockdown restrictions, as the vaccination programme continues apace.
More than 17.2 million people in the UK have had at least the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine as of Saturday, with cases and deaths plummeting amid the lockdown.
Responding to the announcement that the government is aiming to offer a vaccine to every adult in the UK by 31 July, Sir Keir told Sky News he welcomed the move.
“The vaccine is the light at the end of the tunnel and all credit to those on the frontline who have been rolling this out. The NHS have done a fantastic job. I’ve been to a number of vaccine centres and it’s very, very uplifting and I think everybody wants to support this so this is very welcome.”
Sir Keir has been coming under pressure from some Labour MPs over his approach to holding the government to account over its handling of the pandemic.
Former Labour shadow chancellor John McDonnell suggested it was time for the Labour leader to show “anger” and demand “action”.
He told Sky News: “Of course, there is a time for framing speeches and political positioning but there is also a time to get angry and a time to demand immediate action to help people survive.”
He also called for a “debt charter” that would include “a comprehensive package of debt cancellation” for struggling households, small businesses and students.
“Without urgent action, debt problems will spiral out of control, leaving people in deep distress, the economy in tatters, and a profoundly unequal recovery,” he said.
Watch Sophy Ridge on Sunday from 8.30am on Sunday on Sky News, with guests including Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, former Labour shadow chancellor John McDonnell, Health Secretary Matt Hancock and former Conservative leader William Hague.
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