It is vitally important to get children back into schools after lengthy coronavirus lockdown related closures, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said as he issued a direct plea to parents this week to get ready for school once again.
Reiterating a joint statement issued by England's Chief Medical Officer (CMO) and his counterparts from different parts of the United Kingdom, Johnson said the risk posed to children from the deadly virus is very small and being kept away from classrooms any longer would be far more damaging to their well-being.
“As the Chief Medical Officer has said, the risk of contracting Covid-19 in school is very small and it is far more damaging for a child's development and their health and well-being to be away from school any longer,” Johnson said in a statement from Downing Street.
“This is why it's vitally important that we get our children back into the classroom to learn and to be with their friends. Nothing will have a greater effect on the life chances of our children than returning to school,” he said.
The appeal comes as different parts of the country prepare for the end of the summer break and the start of a new school term, with Scotland and Northern Ireland first in line followed by England and Wales from next week.
The UK PM added: “I have previously spoken about the moral duty to reopen schools to all pupils safely, and I would like to thank the school staff who have spent the summer months making classrooms Covid-secure in preparation for a full return in September.
“We have always been guided by our scientific and medical experts, and we now know far more about coronavirus than we did earlier this year.”
Johnson has previously said that schools will be the last places to close in the event of a dreaded second wave of the pandemic or localised lockdowns due to spikes in coronavirus infections, which has claimed over 41,400 lives in the UK.
The UK PM's intervention follows top medical chiefs calling for the reopening of schools because there was an “exceptionally small risk” of children of primary or secondary school age dying from Covid-19 but a greater risk to their overall development by staying away from classrooms.
“Very few, if any, children or teenagers will come to long-term harm from Covid-19 due solely to attending school. This has to be set against a certainty of long-term harm to many children and young people from not attending school,” noted Professor Chris Whitty, the CMO of England, in a consensus statement co-signed by a dozen medical experts.
“Control measures such as hand and surface hygiene, cohorting to reduce number of daily contacts, and directional controls to reduce face-to-face contact remain key elements of maintaining Covid-19 secure school environments and minimising risk,” they said.
While most headteachers and teachers' unions are in favour of resuming classes as soon as possible, there are lingering concerns about the welfare of their staff, pupils and their families. They have called for more government help for schools, including a dedicated helpline to assist with queries. There are also growing calls for more clarity on face coverings and whether to make them compulsory for schools corridors across the UK, following Scotland's example.