The country could be placed ‘right back’ in nationwide lockdown if the government does not improve its track and trace system by the time schools reopen, a top scientist has said.
Sir David King, who worked as chief scientific adviser to the government, said the nation is currently ‘nowhere near’ ready to send children back into the classroom safely.
He described the government’s current track and trace policy as ‘disastrous’, with people only receiving ‘one phone call’ telling them to isolate and no further follow-up ensure they are doing so. He urged Boris Johnson to ensure the system is working effectively in the coming weeks.
Children in England are due to go back to school in September, where they will not have to social distance. Instead, teachers will be asked to limit the extent to which pupils mix with outside their class or year group, and strict hygiene regimes will be implemented.
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Sir David, who leads the Independent Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, told The Mirror: ‘The government has a month to deal with the level of infection as it stands now.
‘Reopening schools should be a priority, but we believe we are nowhere near the point where it can be done safely.’
He added that the R rate of infection will likely rise by about 0.5 due to schools reopening. Ministers have repeatedly said the government limit before action is needed is 1.
This weekend Johnson stated reopening schools was a ‘national priority’ for the country due to the impact on children’s education and the income of parents struggling without childcare.
Writing in the Mail on Sunday, he said: ‘This pandemic isn’t over, and the last thing any of us can afford to do is become complacent. But now that we know enough to reopen schools to all pupils safely, we have a moral duty to do so.’
The PM also added that the differences in home-schooling between the richest and most deprived families could lead to some children ‘tumbling out of education, employment or training altogether, never to return’.
He noted: ‘Keeping our schools closed a moment longer than absolutely necessary is socially intolerable, economically unsustainable and morally indefensible.’
There has been some concern over whether children currently in local lockdown will be able to return with their peers in September, with reports indicating that classroom testing could take place to ensure there won’t be an outbreak.
Schools minister Nick Gibb said children in lockdown will return to school, but added that the government could not ‘decree this for every single case’.
He stated that it will ‘depend on the circumstances of a local increase in the infection rate’, and was therefore being led by the director of public health in localities.
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