Boris Johnson says schools are safe – but increase spread of coronavirus

Jimmy Nsubuga
·3 min read
LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 27: Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a press conference at Downing Street on January 27, 2021 in London, England. Johnson told the House of Commons today that he hoped Schools would return on 8 March 2021. He also said travelers returning from 22 'red list' countries such as South Africa, South American countries and Portugal would have to isolate for ten days in hotels. (Photo by Geoff Pugh - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Boris Johnson during a press conference. (Getty)

Boris Johnson has insisted schools are safe but also said they increase the spread of COVID-19.

The prime minister said schools were safe during a Downing Street press conference on Wednesday.

He said: “The problem is not that schools are unsafe – teachers and headteachers have worked heroically to make sure they are safe, they are COVID-secure.

“The problem is that by definition schools bring many households together and that contributes to the spread of the virus within the community and drives up the R.”

It comes after Johnson announced that lockdown measures will remain in place until at least 8 March.

The news confirms hopes of pupils returning to class after the February half-term have been abandoned, as the PM said the battle with coronavirus remained “perilous”.

Britain's Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England Jonathan Van-Tam attends a virtual press conference on the Covid-19 pandemic, inside 10 Downing Street in central London on January 27, 2021. - Johnson said Wednesday that schools would be the first establishments allowed to reopen, but not before March 8 at the earliest, once the government has completed vaccinating the most vulnerable people by mid-February. (Photo by Geoff PUGH / POOL / AFP) (Photo by GEOFF PUGH/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Deputy Chief Medical Officer Jonathan Van-Tam (Getty)

Deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam also responded to a question on how schools can be both safe places to be and vectors of transmission.

He said children with COVID-19 were more likely to transmit the virus if they were in “upper teenage years”.

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But he said it wasn’t clear if teachers mainly picked up the virus from pupils or each other, and also suggested they could pick up the infection in their own lives outside of school.

He added that there wasn’t a clear signal in the data of a markedly increased rate of infection or mortality in teachers, but did stress that infected children could introduce the infection back in their own household and therefore contribute to an increase in R.

Speaking in the House of Commons on Wednesday, the PM said schools won’t reopen and “other economic and social restrictions” won’t be eased until at least 8 March.

Johnson told MPs: “If we achieve our target of vaccinating everyone in the four most vulnerable groups with their first dose by 15 February, and every passing day sees more progress towards that goal, then those groups [will] have developed immunity from the virus about three weeks later, that is by 8 March.

“We hope it will therefore be safe to begin the reopening of schools from Monday, 8 March.

“With other economic and social restrictions being removed thereafter as and when the data permits… then or thereafter I should say.”

Group Of High School Students Wearing Uniform Running Into School Building At Beginning Of Class
Schools will remain closed until at least 8 March. (Getty)

The date happens to be a target set by a group of lockdown-sceptic Conservative MPs for Johnson to start easing the current lockdown.

Johnson revealed that his government would set out a roadmap for lifting lockdown in the week beginning 22 February, with schools opening no earlier than two weeks later.

The announcement amounts to an extension of England’s national lockdown by another three weeks.

On Monday, it was suggested Johnson wanted to start easing restrictions – including reopening schools – on 15 February.

Watch: What you can and can't do during England's third national lockdown