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COVID-19: Schools to reopen and one-on-one socialising allowed in two weeks time

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Schools in England can reopen from Monday, March 8. Picture: flockine from Pixabay

CHILDREN across the borough will return to school next month, as part of the prime minister’s plan to ease lockdown.

This afternoon, Boris Johnson told the House of Commons he wanted schoolchildren to return to their classrooms on Monday, March 8.

This gives school staff two weeks to prepare for the return.

In his statement at the House of Commons, Mr Johnson said the infection rate is “only now falling below the peak of the first wave in April”.

This, he said, was due to the “extraordinary success of our NHS in vaccinating people across the UK”.

He added: “According to modelling released by SAGE, lifting lockdown will result in more cases, more hospitalisations and sadly more deaths. 

“This will happen whenever lockdown is lifted, because there will always be some people who are not protected. There is no credible route to a zero covid Britain.”

He said restrictions would be revisited every five weeks, to monitor the spread of the virus. 

Along with schools reopening, from March 8, wraparound childcare can reopen and other children’s activities can restart for all children — where it is needed to enable parents to work, attend education, seek medical care or attend a support group.

There will continue to be restrictions on international travel, and holidays are not considered a permitted reason to travel.

And the rules on visiting care homes will change to allow regular indoor visits for a single named visitor.

Borough council support

Cllr UllaKarin Clark, executive member for children’s services said the borough council supports the return of children and young people back into face-to-face teaching. 

“Not only will this allow them to catch up academically, but it is also so vitally important for their social and emotional wellbeing,” she said.

“We believe teachers should be made a priority group to receive the vaccines and are lobbying the Department for Education and other government departments to support this.  

“We are assured that our voices, along with others across the country, are being taken into consideration in decision making nationally on this matter.”

Cllr Clark said vaccinating staff is valuable, the council is “confident” that arrangements currently in place in regard to staff testing are “sufficient” to allow schools to reopen.

She added: “We are keen not to delay the return to face-to-face teaching, where a safe return can be achieved.

“We will continue to monitor attendance, and work with schools and parents on supporting the safe return of all pupils back into school.  We know that for some there will be heightened anxieties linked to individual family circumstances. 

“For any parent who has concerns, we would encourage them to liaise directly with their school to understand the safety arrangements that have been put in place.”

But Cllr Lindsay Ferris, leader of Wokingham Liberal Democrats said opening schools too early would be a “disaster” if it meant more lockdowns in the future. 

He said opening all schools from Monday, March 8, was “too much in one go” and suggested a staggered approach instead.

He said: “For secondary schools there will be testing of staff and pupils on their return and then repeated weekly.

“With schools having over 1,000 pupils and some as large as 1,600 then it would be a marathon event to test everyone on one day.”

He suggested a staggered return within the week could be more manageable for a large secondary school.

He added: “Teachers and teacher assistants need to be given a high priority so that they can receive their vaccines earlier — potentially over the Easter break. 

“We do not want a school to be impacted by teachers falling ill with Covid-19, with all the knock on impacts that would occur, particularly as the vaccine rollout is going so well.”

Cllr Prue Bray, Lib Dem lead for education echoed Cllr Ferris’ concern about all children returning at the same time. 

She said: “Many schools will be struggling to find enough space to keep everyone socially distanced.  

“They may also have difficulties coping because staff still need to self-isolate or shield, or may fall ill with coronavirus, leaving them without enough teachers or support staff. Some of these issues could be avoided if school staff were vaccinated before all children went back to school.”

She suggested a staggered return,prioritising A-level and GCSE year groups,and young children who have been disadvantaged at the start of their education.

“The very last thing any of us wants is for measures to be eased too quickly, the virus to flare up, and lockdown to have to be brought back a third time,” she said.

Socialising

From Monday, March 8, residents will also be allowed to meet one person outside of their household or bubble socially — albeit with social distancing measures. This means staying two metres apart.

This must be done outside and in a public place, such as a park.

It means residents do not need to exercise with a friend in order to meet with them, and can soon sit on a bench and enjoy a picnic together.

However mixing in gardens and homes is still prohibited.

People on the shielding list are advised to carry on until at least the end of March. 

Changes at the end of March 

The prime minister said he hopes to loosen restrictions at the end of March. But this will depend on the impact opening schools has on the national infection rates.

He set out four criteria which must be met, if restrictions are to ease at the end of next month.

These four criteria are:

  • The vaccine deployment programme continues successfully.
  • Evidence shows vaccines are sufficiently effective in reducing hospitalisations and deaths in those vaccinated.
  • Infection rates do not risk a surge in hospitalisations which would put unsustainable pressure on the NHS.
  • Assessment of the risks is not fundamentally changed by new variants of concern.

If met, by Monday, March 29, residents will be able to meet with one other household outdoors. 

Outdoor gatherings will be limited to “the rule of six” and can happen in private gardens. 

Outdoor sports facilities such as tennis or basketball courts will reopen and organised adult and children’s sport, such as grassroots football, will also return.

At this point, residents will no longer be legally required to stay at home, although some lockdown restriction will continue.

Step two

He said the following announcement would come on Monday, April 12. 

The prime minister called this ‘step two’ and said from this time, more leisure restrictions will ease, including for cafes, pubs and restaurants outdoors. There will be no requirement for a substantial meal and no curfew. Although table service will be required.

Other places allowed to open include gyms, libraries and community centres, hairdressers and salons, all retail, outdoor attractions such as zoos, theme parks and drive-in cinemas. 

Funerals will be allowed up to 30 attendees and wedding receptions can have 15 attendees. 

Event pilots will start to begin and domestic overnight stays will be allowed — but only for existing households.

Step three

From Monday, May 17, the prime minister expects indoor socialising to restart, subject to the rule of six, and two households. This is step three.

It will include indoor entertainment and attractions reopening, as well as organised indoors adult sport. Hospitality venues such as cafes, pubs and restaurants will be able to host indoor guests. There will be no requirement for a substantial meal and no curfew. Although table service will be required.

There will be a 30 person limit to outdoor activities, and the rule of six will apply indoors. 

Domestic overnight stays will be allowed and most significant life events, such as weddings, christenings and funerals will be allowed 30 attendees. 

In step three, the Government will further ease limits on social contact, allowing the public to make informed personal decisions.

Some large events may also return, with indoor events capped at 1,000 people or 50% of its capacity, and outdoor events capped at 4,000 people or 50% capacity. Outdoor seated events will be allowed 10,000 attendees.

At this time, Mr Johnson hopes to update residents about international travel restrictions.

Step four

In step four, no earlier than Monday, June 21, Mr Johnson hopes to have no legal limits on social contact, and reopen everything else up including nightclubs and live performances.

As lockdown is eased, the tier system will be scrapped, as the infection rate is relatively uniform across England.

The prime minister said the vaccination programme has dramatically changed the odds, and has allowed for this ‘road map’ to be created.

He concluded by adding that spring and summer would be better than the current situation.

However, he warned all timelines are subject to change and will depend on the spread of Covid-19.

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