CORONAVIRUS could see Boris Johnson call for schools to remain open until the summer holidays, if the Government’s previous pandemic plans are anything to go by.
Yesterday, Mr Johnson chaired an emergency COBRA meeting where it was decided to officially move the UK from the “contain” stage to “delay” after it was confirmed up to 10,000 Britons could already be infected. The Prime Minister said it was “the worst public health crisis for a generation” and warned many families they would “lose loved ones before their time,” following the tenth recorded death in the UK. He added that there was no need to close schools at the moment, stating this measure would have a major impact on families and could also mean they need to be looked after by grandparents – the most vulnerable of catching coronavirus.
While Mr Johnson said this will remain under review, the Department of Health’s “UK Influenza Pandemic Preparedness Strategy” in 2011 suggests schools may not close their doors nationwide.
Part of the review reads: “There is modelling data highlighting the potential benefit of school closures in certain circumstances, both in terms of protecting individual children from infection and in reducing overall transmission of the virus in the population.
“However, to be effective prolonged closures are required.
“This would involve schools over a wide area, but carries a risk that social mixing of children outside school would defeat the object of the closures.”
The report goes on to suggest that schools should not close unless there are specific local reasons but reiterates the need for a review of the situation.
It adds: “Once the virus is more established in the country, the general policy would be that schools should not close – unless there are specific local business continuity reasons (staff shortages or particularly vulnerable children).
“This policy will be reviewed in light of information about how the pandemic is unfolding at the time.”
It also highlights the potential implications of such measures.
It continues: “The impact of the closure of schools and similar settings on all sectors would have substantial economic and social consequences, and have a disproportionately large effect on health and social care because of the demographic profile of those employed in these sectors.
“Such a step would therefore only be taken in an influenza pandemic with a very high impact and so, although school closures cannot be ruled out, it should not be the primary focus of schools’ planning.”
The plan would not see schools closed for a prolonged period.
Under normal circumstances, British schools close in July for the annual summer holidays and, under the current plan, it appears this strategy remains in place.
When approached by Express.co.uk on the possibility of schools not closing, a spokesman said: “As the Chief Medical Officer has said, the impact of closing schools on both children’s education and on the workforce will be substantial, but the benefit to public health may not be.
“Decisions on future advice to schools will be taken based on the latest and best scientific evidence, which at this stage suggests children are the lowest risk group.
“The advice from Public Health England continues to be for schools to remain open, unless advised otherwise.”
Mr Johnson said it was important to get the timing right for stricter measures because people would tire of them after a few weeks.
He also added that the virus is likely to come back in a second wave next winter, meaning immunity in some of the population would be favourable.
Government health advisers are working on the assumption that Britain will not see infection rates peak for up to three months.
Future measures to control the spread of the disease could include stricter self-isolation arrangements, where if one household member falls ill, the entire household is asked to stay home for 14 days.
As the epidemic reaches its peak, it is likely elderly people and those with health conditions will be told to cut social contact and stay at home.
But the UK’s Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty warned against taking such action prematurely.
He said: “It has big practical implications.
“And may lead to loneliness and other issues which are clearly very undesirable for them.
“While we will need to move to that stage, we do not think this is the right moment along the pandemic to do so. But that point will come.”
The general policy would be that schools should not close