Schools may stay closed until the middle of next month to curb the spread of a new mutant coronavirus, according to a new report.
Senior ministers said the reopening of classrooms could be delayed until after the February half-term to help contain the COVID-19 strain, The Telegraph reported.
A total of 55,892 new infections were reported on Thursday, the highest yet, surpassing Tuesday’s 53,000 and the government also recorded 964 more deaths, taking the total number fatalities to 73,512.
A senior source told The Telegraph: “The closure of schools until mid-February is an entirely possible scenario.
"We don’t have the data for Christmas yet but we will by January 18 and it’s difficult to see that being an improvement.”
Another source added: “We have been careful not to say they will definitely reopen on January 18 because we don’t know that.”
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Minutes from a Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) meeting prior to Christmas revealed some did not think a Tier 4 lockdown was enough to deal with the COVID-19 variant.
With schools one of the few places where any amount of mixing is allowed under the strictest tier, there has been increasing pressure to close them again like in the first UK lockdown in spring.
On Wednesday, the government announced the reopening of secondary schools in England will be delayed, and in some of the areas hardest hit by COVID-19 primary school pupils will also not return to their desks as planned next week.
The changes to the start of the new term mean students in exam years will return to secondary schools a week later than intended, from 11 January, while other secondary and college students will go back full-time on 18 January.
A Sage scientist has condemned Boris Johnson’s claim that schools are safe.
Speaking at Wednesday’s Downing Street briefing, the prime minister said: “Today, of course it remains the case that keeping children in education is a national priority.
“It remains the case that schools are safe.”
Professor Susan Michie, a member of Sage and Independent Sage, tweeted: “PM Boris Johnson says today that schools are safe. This is untrue & prevents the necessary measures that need to be taken to make them safe eg. ventilation & distancing (which requires space in unused buildings & extra staff). See plan for safe schools from @IndependentSage.”
Government plans to keep some primary schools open while others “just down the road” remain closed have come under fire for having “no logic”.
Labour, local council leaders and teaching unions have all lined up to attack the proposals to start term time after the Christmas break, amid confusion about why some areas were having to send pupils back to the classroom despite surging cases.
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said he believed it was right to hold off school reopenings in the worst-hit areas, but added that “it will be very confusing for parents that some primaries will be open but others just down the road won’t”.
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