Boris Johnson comes under pressure to confirm March 8 school reopening

Boris Johnson comes under pressure to confirm March 8 school reopening

February 11, 2021

Boris Johnson comes under pressure to confirm March 8 school reopening as Government admits announcement may slip

  • The Government will publish its map out of lockdown on the week of February 22
  • They have promised to give schools a fortnight to prepare for their reopening
  • But Downing Street is refusing to confirm the date for their announcement

Boris Johnson is under pressure to confirm the date for the reopening of schools despite warnings from senior scientists about the dangers still posed by Covid-19.

The Prime Minister had signalled that he wants England’s schools to reopen on March 8 as the first sign of a return to normality.

In order to meet the Government’s promise of giving teachers, pupils and parents a fortnight to prepare for reopening, Mr Johnson will have to set out his plans on February 22.

Boris Johnson is under pressure to confirm the date for the reopening of schools in the wake of Britain’s vaccine success

But Downing Street would only commit to saying Mr Johnson will set out his road-map out of the lockdown at some point that week – rather than specifically on the 22nd.

On Thursday the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: ‘We’ve been clear we will publish the road map on the week of the 22nd.’

The spokesman added ‘we’ll give at least two weeks’ notice to schools.

If the announcement comes on February 26, the Friday of that week, it could push back the reopening of schools until Monday March 15, abiding by the Government’s minimum two-week warning.

This would give pupils only two full weeks back in school before they would break up for the Easter holidays.

If there are reservations about opening up for only a few days before a school holiday, it could then mean pupils do not return to the classroom until April 19, after the Easter break.

The Prime Minister had signalled that he wants England’s schools to reopen on March 8 as the first sign of a return to normality

Former chief whip Mark Harper, chairman of the CRG, said: ‘The Prime Minister, vaccines minister and Health Secretary have all confirmed that the plan for lifting restrictions would come on February 22.

‘It’s crucial we don’t backslide on this, not least because the Government has said it wants to give schools two weeks notice before they open, and – as the PM said – it is the ‘settled will’ of most MPs that pupils should be back in school on March 8.’

Tory MP William Wragg raised a point of order on the issue in the Commons, stating that a statement after February 22 risked ‘pushing it towards Easter’ before pupils could return to class.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: ‘The Prime Minister said he’s aiming for March 8, he needs to keep to that. We do need to get our schools open.’

The speed of the vaccine rollout, with the 15 million people in the four highest priority groups set to have been offered a jab by Monday’s target date, has increased pressure on the Prime Minister to commit to easing lockdown measures,

But a member of the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) warned that it was not sensible to set out a road-map at all at the moment.

Chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said it was crucial to ease restrictions ‘cautiously’ and rejected the setting of deadlines

Wellcome Trust director Sir Jeremy Farrar suggested daily infections needed to fall dramatically before any such move could be considered.

‘Transmission is still incredibly high in the UK. If transmission were still at this level and we were not in lockdown, we would be going into lockdown,’ he told the BBC.

His comments came after another Sage member, Professor John Edmunds, said ‘we will have to be under some kind of restrictions for some time’ until adults had received two vaccine doses.

On Wednesday, chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said it was crucial to ease restrictions ‘cautiously’ and rejected the setting of deadlines.

Conservative former minister Steve Baker, deputy chair of the Covid Recovery Group (CRG) of lockdown-sceptic Tories, said: ‘Having a full public debate is essential at this time but I fear senior scientists are failing to recognise their power to spread despair and despondency.’

He added: ‘I look forward to the Prime Minister’s February 22 roadmap out of restrictions so that we can all reclaim our lives once and for all.’

Some CRG members fear the goalposts for easing lockdown are shifting away from vaccinating the most vulnerable and protecting the NHS to a wider goal of suppressing cases to low levels in order to prevent the rise of mutant strains.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: ‘We want to see infection rates continue to fall across the UK not least so that will ease the pressure on the NHS and ultimately lead to fewer people sadly dying.

‘We will look at the data in the round and we will use that to inform the road-map.’   

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