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Health secretary Matt Hancock this morning refused to rule out further delays to reopening schools after Christmas following large parts of the country being put into the new tier 4 lockdown.

Speaking on the Andrew Marr Show, Hancock said “the plan” is still for a staggered start for schools – announced last week. But when asked about the possibility for further delays, he said: “I’ve learnt not to rule anything out in this pandemic.”

The current plan is that some secondary pupils will start the new term with remote learning. Meanwhile, schools are expected to set-up testing centres – details of which were published on the last day of term for many schools. Unions have said the government plan is “inoperable”.

When challenged over concerns from the sector about the plan, Hancock said he “appreciates like so many people in the NHS, there is going to have to be some work over the Christmas break – and that’s absolutely fine”.

He said the “vast majority” [of headteachers] want to educate children and some are “desperate to do their part”,  adding that “you can always find somebody to complain”.

When asked if there is enough time to put the plans in place, he said it was not “impossible because it’s already happening”. However he claimed schools had three weeks to implement the plans – when the Christmas break for most schools is actually two weeks.

It was announced last night that London, the South East and the East of England will be under new tier 4 lockdown restrictions after a new strain of the virus was “spreading more rapidly”.

Prime minister Boris Johnson said last night: “When the virus changes its method of attack, we must change our method of defence.”

Last week education secretary Gavin Williamson employed emergency Covid legal powers for the first time – instructing Greenwich Council to withdraw advice for its schools to move to remote learning amid “exponential growth” in cases.