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School reopenings risk new coronavirus spike, UEA scientist warns

PUBLISHED: 06:00 05 August 2020 | UPDATED: 08:09 05 August 2020

All pupils will return to lessons from September under government plans. Picture: PA Images

All pupils will return to lessons from September under government plans. Picture: PA Images

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The reopening of schools to all pupils from September could lead to an increase in new coronavirus cases, it has been warned.

Professor Paul Hunter, from the University of East Anglia. Picture: UEAProfessor Paul Hunter, from the University of East Anglia. Picture: UEA

Tens of thousands of pupils in Norfolk will put on their uniforms in four weeks time and return to lessons for the first time since March.

MORE: What school will be like for your children in September

Dr Paul Hunter, professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia, said although risks of returning to schools for individual children and teachers would be low, school transmission was likely to push up general infection rates again.

He said: “If you are a teacher the chances of coming into contact with a single infected person, whether it is a child, another teacher or a parent, is really low, but when you have got hundreds of thousands of those interactions across the country there will be enough that the infection could spread and increase. That is the issue really.

NASUWT general secretary Patrick Roach. Picture: Simon Boothe/NASUWT/PA ImagesNASUWT general secretary Patrick Roach. Picture: Simon Boothe/NASUWT/PA Images

“A child going to school in September is very unlikely to catch the infection, but it is whether going to school can increase the overall level of transmission.

“It may not be the children doing the spreading, it could be parents at the school gate, the number of parents teacher interactions or the fact that when schools are closed a larger number of parents have to stay off work.”

Prime minister Boris Johnson has pledged that all pupils at both primary and secondary schools will return in September. The Department for Education (DfE) has issued extensive guidance on measures for every child can be brought back safely.

Schools have been issued guidance of retiurning all pupils to lessons, including larger teaching bubbles of up to 30 in primaries. Picture: Joe Giddens/PA WireSchools have been issued guidance of retiurning all pupils to lessons, including larger teaching bubbles of up to 30 in primaries. Picture: Joe Giddens/PA Wire

MORE: 3D virtual tours and videos: how schools are welcoming new pupils amid coronavirus

However over the weekend the NASUWT teachers’ union raised renewed concerns, with its general secretary Patrick Roach saying schools, teachers and parents need to be given “greater clarity” with the easing the lockdown now being slowed.

Jim Adams, chief executive of Clarion Academy Trust, which oversees Hobart High School in Loddon and Pakefield High, near Lowestoft, and a spokesman for Educate Norfolk, said any changes in advice needed to be communicated much quicker and more clearly.

He said: “As things stand, I think the DfE guidance is fine. Obviously if things change, a second wave for example, we will need considerable further guidance. In the past, this has not always been as timely or as useful as it could be.”

Jim Adams, chief executive of Clarion Academy Trust. Picture: Nick ButcherJim Adams, chief executive of Clarion Academy Trust. Picture: Nick Butcher

A DfE spokesman said: “We have set out the controls schools should use, including cleaning and hygiene measures, to substantially reduce the risk of transmission of the virus when they open to all children from September.”


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