As the government announced that primary schools were to reopen on June 1, many teachers’ unions and the British Medical Association have and continue to express their deep concerns about the health implications of this decision. It is undeniable that the government has handled the COVID-19 crisis disastrously – Boris Johnson’s absence of five Cobra meetings on the virus, the government’s failure to supply sufficient PPE, the decision to not take part in the EU scheme of bulk-buying ventilators, and Johnson *actually* defending Dominic Cummings after breaking the lockdown rules to travel 260 miles are to name only a few. No words seem to adequately describe the horrendous situation we are currently in.
With the highest death toll in Europe and a figure continuously rising, it seems absurd to many that the government would consider it to be safe and appropriate to ease lockdown measures. Many of our European neighbours have (somewhat successfully) begun to ease measures by sending children back to school it is vital to comprehend the major differences. Schools in Denmark opened in April with children arriving at separate times, eating their lunches separating, staying in their designated ‘zones’, and being taught by one teacher. Whilst this seems like a logical next step, the death toll in Denmark is 598, whereas this figure in the United Kingdom is nearly 42,000 (as of June 17).
Clinical evidence does suggest that children rarely suffer a severe illness upon infection, but this is by no means guaranteed, nor does it mean that children are not carriers of the virus. Children can pass the virus to their relatives, or to their teachers – and as pupils continue to return this summer and in September, this may unfortunately be the case. Regardless of how “well” reopening has been regulated (for example, by adhering to social distancing and having no more than 15 pupils in one class), the re-opening of schools could result in a second coronavirus spike, subsequently pushing the R rate well above 1. Scientists from Independent SAGE also report that there has been no clear evidence that it is safe to re-open schools, demonstrating that the government is clearly not merely being ‘led by the science’.
Of course, with lockdown measures being eased – and the government now absurdly saying ‘Stay Alert’ rather than ‘Stay Home’ – parents and carers of younger children may find difficulty leaving children unattended especially since many are now going back to work. This is certainly understandable, and with the government making extremely difficult decisions it is hard not to sympathise with the government to a degree. Yet, with the disastrous leadership of the Conservative Party, along with a death toll of over 40,000 and a number continuously rising, we are by no means ready to ease lockdown measures, let alone continue to send children back to school. Whilst the number of confirmed cases is falling, deaths remain high and the risk of a second wave is still high.
With many well-educated politicians currently in government, it seems strange that they could not consider a more appropriate option that would not risk the lives of many, whilst also not depriving children of their education. This could include giving parents and carers the option to send their children to school (as opposed to making it a requirement) or emailing parents with daily homework. It also seems strange that only state schools have re-opened, with private schools due to open in September.
Whilst many Tories do not seem to acknowledge the countless terrible mistakes that has caused the lives of thousands of Britons, the reopening of primary schools was arguably the wrong step to take, and is rather yet another disastrous decision made by the Tory government that has showcased the catastrophic leadership of the current government. A possible solution could be for it to be optional to send children to school, but with approximately 200 deaths per day (whilst countries like Turkey have 30 deaths per day) it certainly should not be an option to loosen restrictions. Whilst definitely a difficult decision to be made on part of the government, with only a month left until the summer holidays and the re-opening of schools having only applied to state schools only, is it really worth risking lives?