Schools could have to close this winter to get Covid second wave under control, Sage experts warn

Schools could have to close this winter to get Covid second wave under control, Sage experts warn

November 1, 2020

SCHOOLS may have to close this winter in order to get the second wave of Covid-19 under control, Sage experts have warned.

Sir Mark Walport, the former chief scientific adviser, said the new restrictions in place for the second lockdown were not as “severe” as the first time and there was a “possibility” the restrictions may have to remain in place for longer than the initial four weeks.

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He told Sky’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday: “It's unlikely this time to come down quite as fast as it did during the first lockdown because we have got schools open.”

Sir Jeremy Farrar, a member of the Government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), echoed those comments, saying transmission in secondary schools was “high”.

Appearing on BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show, he said: “The big difference to the first lockdown is that schools remain open.

“Because we have delayed the onset of this lockdown it does make keeping schools open harder.

HIGH TRANSMISSION RATE IN SCHOOLS

“We know that transmission, particularly in secondary schools is high.

“Personally, I think this is definitely the lockdown to put in place now but if that transmission, particularly in secondary schools, continues to rise then that may have to be revisited in the next four weeks in order to get R below one and the epidemic shrinking.”

The comments come after The National Education Union called for the Government to close schools and colleges when the new restrictions in England come into force on Thursday, adding that if they are not shut the measures will be less effective.

The union’s joint general secretary Kevin Courtney said: “We think it is a real missed opportunity, it's another half measure and, without school closures as part of it, it is unlikely to have the effect that the Prime Minister wants.”

Cabinet Minister Michael Gove admitted today the four-week lockdown may have to be extended if the measures did not bring the R rate down to below one – and even then they would only be slightly eased.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster said: "We are going to review it on December 2 but we are driven by the data.

"On the basis of what we have been told it should drive the R rate below 1.

"It’s our hope that we have significantly reduced the reinfection (R) rate."

Last night Boris Johnson ordered England into a second lockdown, after being told thousands of deaths could be occurring a day from the virus by Christmas if left unchecked.

But he added schools, colleges and universities should remain open.

They will be responsible for ensuring social-distancing measures are in place.

The Prime Minister was presented with horrifying plans in the event of hospitals becoming overwhelmed – including storing dead bodies in skating centres, amid warnings of 4,000 deaths a day.

Sir Simon Stevens, head of the NHS, pulled together the plans amid fears thousands would die at the peak of the second wave – expected to come by Christmas if nothing is done.

It was said to be this which convinced the PM to make the U-turn and order a national lockdown.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer supported the move to keep schools open, saying they “must stay open” but added “we’ve got to manage the risk”.

He told BBC's Andrew Marr show today: “I want schools open, I think the harm to children from being out of school is too high – we have to manage the risk but it is a priority to keep schools open.

“We need to make sure that they are as safe as possible. The government should put in place effective testing at school.

“Put children, teachers and staff at the front of the queue in the same way as NHS staff to make sure we control it.”

I want schools open, I think the harm to children from being out of school is too high – we have to manage the risk but it is a priority to keep schools open

Mr Courtney said not including schools and colleges in the new lockdown would probably lead to the need for a longer lockdown in the future.

He said: “The latest figures from the ONS estimate that 1 per cent of primary pupils and 2 per cent of secondary pupils have the virus and that these levels have increased dramatically since wider opening in September.

“NEU analysis of ONS figures shows that virus levels are now nine times higher amongst primary pupils and an astonishing 50 times higher amongst secondary pupils.

“The National Education Union called for a two-week circuit break over half-term to include schools, which the Wales Government and the Northern Ireland assembly have done – but the Government in Westminster has ignored this call.

“More severe measures are now called for as a result, the Government should not make this mistake again.


“The Government should include all schools in proposals for an immediate national lockdown and as a minimum be preparing for school rotas at the end of that period, including by actually meeting its promise to deliver broadband and equipment to those children who do not have them.

“It is also vital that the Government ensure proper financial support for all those affected by lockdown including crucial supply teachers and other staff.”

Andy Burnham, the Greater Manchester mayor, also backed calls for schools to be closed as a way to get the number of cases down.

He said in a joint press conference with Liverpool City Region mayor Steve Rotheram: “I would suggest a period of two weeks' closure towards the second half of November so that schools have time to prepare online learning, but that would create the conditions for the biggest drop in cases that we could achieve and it would then create the conditions for some kind of Christmas for more families because they need it right now.”

Mr Rotheram said the Government had told northern leaders that 25 per cent of infections were transmitted in education settings – the same proportion as the hospitality setting.

There have been more than 35,000 cases on campuses since term started last month, according to figures from the UCU.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: “The health and safety of the country is being put at risk because of this government's insistence that universities must continue with in-person teaching.”

Reports say that more than half of secondary schools have pupils self-isolating due to the spread of Covid-19.

According to Department of Education (DfE) figures between 6-7 per cent of state school pupils did not attend class for coronavirus-related issues on October 22.

But it will apply to England only – Scotland and Wales have said they will assess the situation and apply their own rules.




 

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