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Coronarivus: Schools won’t be ‘swarming with cases’, says medical chief

Covid schools

Parents and teachers can be assured that schools won’t be “swarming with cases” if they open to more pupils from June 1, the government’s deputy chief medical officer has said.

Jenny Harries also pointed to statistics suggesting that teachers have lower death rates from coronavirus compared to other professions, adding there are a “number of signals that say this is a safe place to go”.

However she said the death rate statistics are quite “crude data” and must be treated carefully.

Education secretary Gavin Williamson, who led the briefing today, stated several times the plans for a phased return of pupils from June 1 are reliant on the government’s five tests being met.

But he added that a decreasing rate of infections would give them the “green light”.

Harries pointed to the latest data suggesting the rate of infection is 1 in 400, adding that when schools go back this might be halved.

“Parents and teachers should not be thinking that every school is likely to be swarming with cases, we are moving in quite a different direction now.”

Williamson refused to answer whether governors should listen to the government ahead of councils that have told then not to reopen. It comes after Liverpool council told it schools not to reopen until June 15 at earliest, as revealed by Schools Week.

He said every school should “put at the heart of what it does” to ensure they do everything they can to get pupils back to school.

Williamson also wouldn’t be drawn on criticising unions for their opposition to the government plans, saying: “My door is always open. I’m always keen to talk to them.”

Harries revealed that seven different return-to-school scenarios have been modelled by SAGE, the scientific group that advises the government.

She said: “The one that’s adopted gives a very small increased [in the R value of transmissions] and the design of that is to ensure we can keep those R levels down.”

The seven models have not been mentioned publicly by the government before, but it’s understood sector organisations were made aware of their existence at a recent meeting with the government’s scientists and have pushed for their publication.



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6 Comments

  1. Well if they’re not swarming with cases upon wider reopening, they soon will be. Especially as children can only obtain a test if symptomatic yet a large number of children, according to DfE evidence, are asymptomatic.
    Further, these school staff deaths are during lockdown, with just over 2% of children in attendance. It doesn’t take a mathematical genius to deduce that as numbers of children in attendance increases, so too will staff deaths.

  2. Janet Downs

    It’s true that schools won’t appear to be ‘swarming’ with Covid-19 cases. That’s because symptoms in children are slight and may even be unnoticed. But they will still be infectious. One infected child could infect their classmates who in turn could infect their families. They could also infect school staff who are not all young and healthy.

  3. Many teachers have not been in schools during the closure period and have only been on an occasional rota to work with children of key workers or vulnerable children. The death rate is of course going to be lower than other professions! If we are going to compare then let’s at least do it on a level playing field with some sophistication.

    I support getting children back into school but we need to have assurances which still seem woolly about safety to do so, particularly when social distancing has already proved hard with small numbers of children in school.

    One question that I haven’t seen an answer to is how are schools going to welcome all year groups back – particularly in September when presumably class sizes will still be small without a rota or blended approach to school and home based learning. School estate cannot magically double in size!

  4. Keith Trobe

    This is the same person who said it was fine the Cheltenham Gold Cup meeting to go ahead in the third week of March bringing together 250,000 people. Look at the impact two weeks later on Covid cases in nearby hospitals. her judgement on schools is not to be trusted.

  5. It is simple.. based on the fact that we are talking about only 5 weeks from proposed start to the end of the school year.. it seems to me that it is an unnecessary push that only fills a very short period if time for a very small % of kids.. kids that are children of key workers and other workers that can not work from home, kids that welfare is best to attend school bc of unsuitable time at home are already allowed to attend government schools if needed.. why are we causing divide amongst parents/teachers/families to push for more then this for only very few grades and only a 5 week period of time!
    If we wait until start after summer break.. we have ample time for track and trace services, further research/testing/training/preparations time and information.
    It seems futile and dividing for little upside.