Schools in Britain are unlikely to reopen until June 1 at the earliest, the leader of the head teachers’ union said Thursday as Britain, like many other countries, is competing against time to develop vaccine amid a global fight against the novel coronavirus.
Planning would need “to begin very soon” to hit the June 1 target, Geoff Barton, general secretary of the British Association of School and College Leaders, told the BBC. “We cannot see any realistic way that schools could be re-opened to more pupils before the second half of the summer term,” Barton said.
NO DATE FOR REOPENING SCHOOLS
Chairing Sunday’s Downing Street press briefing, Secretary of State for Education Gavin Williamson did not give a date for when schools could reopen, but set out five thresholds that must be met before that can happen.
Those thresholds include the National Health Service’s (NHS) ability to cope, daily death rates decreasing, reliability of data on rate of infection falling, testing capacity and personal protective equipment (PPE) are being managed with supply meeting demand, and lastly any changes the government makes will not risk a second peak of infections, he told reporters.
“I can’t give you a date when schools will reopen fully,” he added, “there are currently no plans to have schools open over the summer period and we haven’t been working on plans to have them open over the summer period.”
Meanwhile, the pupil attendance rate in education settings fell from 3.7 percent on the first day of partial school closures to 1.3 percent only one week later, according to a government analysis.
Since April 6, which would have been the first week of the Easter break, the proportion of pupils attending has not risen above 0.9 percent, according to data from the Department for Education.
The low figures have prompted concern among education unions and charities, who warned that many vulnerable children are not getting the support they need through school.
VACCINE NOT AVAILABLE BY YEAR END
A coronavirus vaccine is unlikely to be available before the end of the year, despite tens of millions of pounds being spent on trials in Britain. Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, poured cold water on hopes that an impending vaccine could be the way out of lockdown.
He said some social distancing measures would need to stay in place for the rest of the year, until there was a vaccine or drug which reduced the severity of COVID-19.
Oxford University has been given the green light to start human trials on Thursday. But despite this promising step, Whitty said until a vaccine was found Britain will have to rely on social distancing measures.
“Until we have those, and the probability of having those any time in the next calendar year are incredibly small and I think we should be realistic about that, we’re going to have to rely on other social measures, which of course are very socially disruptive as everyone is finding at the moment,” he added.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said Wednesday that Britain is “at the peak” of the COVID-19 outbreak while the rules of social distancing “is making a difference”.
Another 616 people who tested positive for COVID-19 have died in hospitals in Britain as of Wednesday afternoon, bringing the total number of coronavirus-related deaths to 18,738, the Department of Health and Social Care said Thursday.
TRACING VIRUS THROUGH POPULATION
Britain is carrying out a large-scale coronavirus infection and antibody test study involving up to 300,000 people to track the spread of COVID-19 in the general population, according to the Department for Health and Social Care.
Led by the department and the Office for National Statistics, the study will help improve understanding about the current rate of infection and how many people are likely to have developed antibodies to the virus.
In total, 25,000 people will take part in the pilot phase of the survey, with plans to extend it to up to around 300,000 over the next 12 months. Adults from around 1,000 households will also provide blood samples monthly for the next 12 months.
“This survey will help to track the current extent of transmission and infection in the UK, while also answering crucial questions about immunity as we continue to build up our understanding of this new virus,” said Hancock.
“Together, these results will help us better understand the spread of the virus to date, predict the future trajectory and inform future action we take, including crucially the development of ground-breaking new tests and treatments,” he added. Enditem