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MP Robert Halfon demands answers from health bosses over Covid infection rates in schools

News / Tue 29th Dec 2020 at 01:05pm

HARLOW MP Robert Halfon demanded Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance publish the data being used to pressure Boris Johnson into shutting schools until February amid warnings a third national lockdown would spark an ‘epidemic of educational poverty’ in Britain reports the Daily Mail.

Robert Halfon, chair of the Education Select Committee, has questioned whether the new strain of Covid-19 has as much of an impact as has been reported despite it being used to condemn millions of children to ‘sub-standard’ online classes.

Speaking to Good Morning Britain today, he said: ‘We haven’t had the advice from the chief medical officer and the chief science officer, previously they were saying time and time again that the risks to Covid for children were low and that there were marginal transmission rates.’

He added: ‘I asked a very senior public health England official only just before Christmas whether or not this new variant made a difference and he said there was no evidence for that. So what we need to do is hear from the chief medical officer and chief science officer what exactly is the scientific evidence, because at the moment we don’t know for sure.’

Although their most recent advice to the PM has not been published, SAGE scientists said last week they believe the mutated Kent strain of coronavirus is 54% more infectious and spreads more easily among children, based on the increased proportion of coronavirus cases among under-18s during the November lockdown when shops, leisure centres, pubs and restaurants were closed – but schools remained open.

A SAGE mathematical model predicting the spread of the new strain has also warned that Tier 4 restrictions will not be enough to stop the spread of the new variant – and the ‘R’ number below 1 – without also closing schools and universities.

Mr Halfon added: ‘Already pupils in some years are something like 15 to 22-months behind than they should be, and whilst we have a vaccine for the coronavirus we don’t have a vaccination if we destroy people’s life chances’. He added: ‘I don’t want to have an epidemic of educational poverty endemic in our country.’  

The Prime Minister is under mounting pressure from his split cabinet, teachers and unions to shut schools through January despite parents’ desperate pleas not to ‘cruelly’ rob their children of a classroom education after a year of immense disruption.

Mr Johnson is considering consigning millions of children to more ‘inadequate’ online learning that the head of Ofsted believes sets back children ‘years’, particularly those from working class backgrounds. Experts say that months at home during the first lockdown saw many youngsters regress academically, socially and developmentally.   

The SAGE warning is said to have spooked Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove who are both said to have suggested to the PM yesterday that the reopening of schools might have to be delayed as daily infections hit 40,000, according to The Times

In a meeting hosted by No 10 yesterday, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson argued that they must stick to the plan of a staggered start to the new term, with children in years 11 and 13, and those with key worker parents, going to secondary school from Monday with the rest returning on January 11. Primary Schools would open as usual on January 4. 

But no final decision has been made with the Government accused of ‘dithering’ as it emerged 1,500 military personnel would be deployed to ensure that testing systems were up and running by the time pupils returned for the new term in January. 

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