Omicron: Javid says ‘no guarantees’ on schools staying open

Health minister Sajid Javid said there are “no guarantees” about whether schools will stay open amid warnings of a “tidal wave” of Omicron Covid-19 cases.

Speaking on LBC this morning, Javid said he “didn’t want to see” schools closed and that he will focus on “everything else” they can do, such as the ramping up of vaccine boosters announced yesterday.

But he added: “If you are asking me for guarantees I will just say as the health secretary – of course I’m not the education secretary, as the health secretary – when it comes to our fight against this pandemic, there are no guarantees.”

However, education secretary Nadhim Zahawi said this afternoon there “is no evidence to suggest we are going to need to close our schools and colleges”.

“Schools will always be the last to close and first to open,” he said, urging staff to get their boosters.

It follows Zahawi saying he would do “everything” in his “power” to make sure schools are open in January, but stopped short of a total guarantee.

Speaking on The Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, he added: “We are absolutely working to make sure that all schools are open and they are protected. I will do everything in my power, we are still learning about this variant, we know that a booster works.”

The language over potential school closures from minsiters has shifted from this time last year, when politicians insisted classrooms would remain open despite a rise in cases of the Alpha variant.

On Sunday, January 3, Boris Johnson said he had “no doubt” schools were safe and urged parents to “absolutely” send their children in.

At 8pm the following evening, he announced a full lockdown – with all schools closed until mid-February at the earliest. Exams were also cancelled.

The UK’s Covid alert level was raised from three to four yesterday, amid evidence that Omicron infections are doubling every two to three days.

Level four – on the five level system – means “transmission is high or rising exponentially”.

The prime minister warned in a broadcast yesterday there is “a tidal wave of Omicron coming”. All over-18s will now be offered a booster jab by the end of December, he pledged.

But this morning there were reports of long queues at vaccination centres and the NHS booking site repeatedly crashing.

The latest Office for National Statistics infection survey, based on random tests of up to 100,000 people, saw a slight uptick in the number of secondary age children testing positive.

This was 4.18 per cent of primary school children in the week ending December 1, down from 4.25 per cent the week before.

For secondary pupils this was 3.87 per cent, up from 3.46 per cent in the previous week.

School-aged children had the highest Covid rates of all ages. However the infection levels are down from a peak in the week before the October half term, when 9.1 per cent of pupils (one in 11) were estimated to have tested positive.

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