Published On: Fri, May 22nd, 2020

It is ‘not safe’ for England’s schools to reopen on June 1, former UK chief scientific adviser’s group warns

A group of top scientists led by a former UK government chief scientific adviser has warned against reopening English schools on June 1, saying it is too soon for kids to return to classrooms safely amid the threat of Covid-19.

A report published by the ‘Independent Sage’ committee, chaired by Sir David King, says that “well-functioning local test, trace, and isolate protocols” – key conditions for the UK government to relax lockdown restrictions – will not be in place by the start of June.

Until [the protocols] are, it is not safe to open schools on June 1.

New modelling shows that the risk to pupils would be halved if UK ministers delayed their proposed school opening date by two weeks, allowing more time for an effective “test, trace and isolate” program to be established, according to the science committee.

The UK government is due to publish scientific evidence on Friday from its own official SAGE (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) committee, which is underpinning its plan to allow primary schools to reopen in a safe manner.

PM Boris Johnson told MPs in the House of Commons on Wednesday that 25,000 contact tracers, able to track 10,000 new coronavirus cases a day, would be in place by June 1. However, the much-heralded NHS contact-tracing phone app will not be ready to be rolled out on the same date as planned.

In recent weeks, teaching unions have advised schools not to engage with the UK government about reopening until official guidance is updated to satisfy safety concerns.

Furthermore, a revolt of 68 – mainly Labour-led councils in England – has pushed Downing Street to admit it will not penalize some 1,500 primary schools who are adamant that they will disobey government calls to reopen on June 1, due to the Covid-19 outbreak.

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The report suggests that if the delay lasted until September it would be even less risky, reducing the coronavirus threat to children below the possibility of death through a road traffic accident.

It comes as Public Health England’s (PHE) Medical Director Yvonne Doyle told MPs on Friday morning that “ultimately, it will be for schools to decide” whether they are ready to reopen.

The latest data published by the Department for Health and Social Care on Thursday showed that the UK’s Covid-19 death toll has surpassed 36,000.

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