Coronavirus: Five key sentences from scientists’ advice on reopening schools

James Morris
·Senior news reporter, Yahoo News UK
·3 min read
Students study and write in their exercise books in class at Royal High School Bath, which is a day and boarding school for girls aged 3-18 and also part of The Girls' Day School Trust, the leading network of independent girls' schools in the UK.  (Photo by Ben Birchall/PA Images via Getty Images)
The government is planning for schools to start reopening on 1 June at the earliest. (Ben Birchall/PA Images via Getty Images)

The government’s top scientists have released advice on the planned reopening of schools next month.

Boris Johnson and his government want Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 classes in England to return on 1 June at the earliest.

In its new report on relaxing school closures during the coronavirus lockdown, the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) did not make an outright recommendation – adding to the uncertainty over whether the 1 June reopening will happen.

However, there were a number of important pieces of information in the report. Yahoo News picks out five key sentences…

Risk in children ‘inconclusive’

“Evidence remains inconclusive on both the susceptibility and infectivity of children, but the balance of evidence suggests that both may be lower than in adults.”

The advice will not appease teaching unions which have been protesting against the reopening plans on health and safety grounds.

Chance of increased transmission…

“Although some scenarios for relaxing school closures may have a small relative impact, this will need to be considered within the wider context – that is, if the current reproduction number is only just below 1, then even a small change could lead to a return to exponential growth.”

The so-called “R” or reproduction number is currently between 0.7 and 1. If the R is 1 or higher, the virus will spread exponentially through the population. An R number of less than 1 indicates the virus is in decline.

…but schools are a small part of a bigger picture

“Although the choice of scenario for relaxing school closures is of importance, a more critical issue is adherence to existing measures elsewhere in the community – with an impact on R an order of magnitude higher.”

However, SAGE also pointed out that relaxing school closures could result in this “falling adherence to existing social distancing” measures.

Be safe

“Teachers, parents, and children must feel safe.”

The government has previously confirmed parents will not be penalised for refusing to send their children to school if they don’t feel safe doing so.

However, Number 10 has previously refused to say whether teachers will be punished for not going to work.

Social distancing is hard in schools

“Physical distancing between children, staff and children, and staff will be influenced by the physical design of the indoor and outdoor spaces and temporal management – to affect both flow of people and congregation inside and outside buildings.”

SAGE also warned plans are needed for redesigned indoor and outdoor spaces to minimise COVID-19 transmission.

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