As coronavirus infection rates soar, and hundreds of schools are hit by cases, Counterfire demands government action.
Less than three weeks into September, over 1000 schools are reported to have already had cases of coronavirus among staff or pupils. The government’s failures over testing mean that the real figures of infections could be much higher than those who have tested positive.
This is part of a wider surge in infection numbers. Over the last week case numbers have doubled. On Friday the official figure for daily cases comfortably passed the 4000 mark. It is clear that full school reopening is one of the biggest factors driving this rapid increase.
There are now indications that hospital admissions are rapidly increasing too. With that, we can expect the death rate to rise again.
Schools are environments where, despite the best efforts of staff, physical distancing is impossible. Large numbers of people are being brought together indoors - in close proximity - for sustained periods of time. It is unsurprising that full school reopening has been a catalyst for increase transmission.
Furthermore, it goes together with a push back to the workplaces for parents, which increases transmission. That has been actively encouraged by Boris Johnson and his government.
The National Education Union, backed by parents and campaigners, did an excellent job of pushing back reckless government efforts to prematurely reopen schools earlier this year. That undoubtedly helped suppress virus transmission.
However, the numbers were not pushed down far enough to prevent a renewed surge this month. That disaster is due to repeated mistakes - from lifting lockdown restrictions too early to failures to provide adequate testing - by a government putting short-term profit ahead of people’s health.
The Tories picked a fight with teachers when they should have been supporting schools to prepare for a uniquely challenging new term. That would mean more staff and more space to help with distancing. It would mean additional funding for schools and the provision of technology like laptops, together with guaranteed internet access, for those young people who need it.
Many schools are currently under strain as staff absence rises or as some classes have to be sent home. The situation is chaotic and stressful, compounded by the appalling shortages of coronavirus testing in schools. This is not sustainable.
We need to make our voices heard for mass testing in schools, more staff and space, and technology going to those who require it. But we now need to go still further than this and insist that schools are closed where significant outbreaks occur. This is vital for stopping transmission in communities.
We must put safety first. We should aim for a Zero Covid strategy that seeks to eliminate the virus, instead of making a futile bid to hold it down to sufficiently low levels for a ‘return to normal’. That is a doomed ambition.
Serious short-term measures can bring long-term gains. If brief school closures are necessary to deal with the virus then that is what should happen. The government needs to support schools and their staff in providing support, through online learning, for children and young people’s education.
The mantra that all schools must remain fully open at all costs makes no sense if we want to save lives. Safety is the priority for school staff, parents and communities, even if it isn’t for a Tory government with a track record of failure since the start of this pandemic.
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