June 1 is “too early” for schools to reopen, a former government chief scientific adviser has said.
Sir David King, who chairs the “Independent Sage” group of scientists, said that “by going ahead with this dangerous decision, the government is further risking the health of our communities and the likelihood of a second spike”
It comes as the government prepares to publish advice received by the official Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE).
It also comes after as many as 27 councils raised concerns about the government’s plans to have reception, year 1 and year 6 pupils return on June 1.
A document setting out “interim findings and concerns” by the Independent Sage group states that delaying the reopening of schools by just two weeks until June 15 “approximately halves the risk to children”, and that delaying until September would be “less risky still”.
The advice states: “We believe that decisions on school opening should be guided by evidence of low levels of COVID-19 infections in the community and the ability to rapidly respond to new infections through a local test, track and isolate strategy. There is no clear evidence that these conditions are met.
“Until they are it is not safe to open schools on June 1.”
The document goes on to state that “some rural areas might be ready to re-open schools earlier than other places”.
“Estimates of levels of infections must be based on up-to-date real time, detailed, local data on suspected and confirmed cases.
“To ensure that any local outbreaks are quickly spotted and contained, we strongly recommend that local test, track and isolate programmes are in place and tested before schools re-open. In cases where schools reopen where these safeguards are not in place, we suggest alternative testing strategies at the end of this document.”
The group modelled three return dates – June 1, June 15 and September 1, and found that children would be much more likely to catch the virus if schools reopened the week after next.
The group said the “main takeaway” from its analysis “is that risk falls relatively quickly over a week or two after commitment to a June 1 reopening date”.
“This means that delaying re-opening by a couple of weeks could allow time to find solutions to local challenges and set up strong local testing procedures while knowing that risks are getting lower.”