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Mon, 10 August 2020

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Teacher trade unions warn reopening schools on June 1 risks second coronavirus wave

Teacher trade unions warn reopening schools on June 1 risks second coronavirus wave

Schools have been closed to almost all pupils since 20 March (PA)

3 min read

The leaders of 10 teacher trade unions are warning ministers reopening schools prematurely risks creating a second wave in coronavirus infections.

The general secretaries from across the UK and Ireland are urging “significant caution” in any decision after reports pupils will be allowed back into the classroom on June 1.

Schools have been closed, except the children of key workers and those classed as vulnerable, since 20 March.

But as children are believed to be less affected and much worse at passing on Covid-19 than adults, education facilities are being earmarked for reopening as part of the first phase in easing the lockdown measures and kickstarting the economy.

Boris Johnson is set to unveil his plans on Sunday, with year 6 pupils expected to be the first cohort allowed back at the start of next month, followed by the rest of primary school-age kids, followed by years 10 and 12 later into the summer.

But in a letter to education secretary Gavin Williamson and his counterparts in the devolved governments, the British Irish Group of Teacher Unions (BIGTU) warns of the “very real risk of creating a spike in the transmission of the virus by a premature opening of schools”.

The group, which represents almost a million teachers and education staff, is calling for the establishment of sufficient  capacity to “test trace and isolate” the infection as a prerequisite for schools to unlock their doors.

BIGTU are also asking for: “Significant operational changes in place to ensure effective social distancing, strong hygiene routines linked to thorough cleansing practices, appropriate PPE available where required, and ongoing risk assessments in place to monitor operations.”

Mr Williamson has said schools in England are set to reopen in a "phased manner" after the lockdown, but he has yet to set a date.

The letter comes as Sir Patrick Vallance, the Government’s chief scientific adviser, told the health select committee it was “very clear that children are at much lower risk of clinical disease and severe disease”, and also less likely to develop “symptomatic disease”

But he said there is “less robust” evidence that children are less likely to get infected.

“The evidence is that they are unlikely to be higher than adults as a source of transmission and maybe lower”, Sir Patrick told MPs.

“Particularly young children may be a lower risk of transmission but the evidence, again, is not compelling and you’d have to say there’s low confidence in terms of that.”

He added: “Very young children actually are not such a big cause for transmission because they don’t have that household-to-household connection in the same way older children do. 

“So that’s what, I expect, underlies the decision in lots of European countries to go for primary and younger children first because they are less likely to cause onward transmission, not for reasons of the biology but for reasons of the contact and patterns of links between households.”


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