The UK government’s dither and delay is failing to protect our nation from the unfettered transmission of Covid-19 among a mostly unvaccinated school-age population, and the threat which resultant variants may pose to the vaccination strategy, worldwide.
First published in August 2021.
Reports this week that a small trial of air purifiers is to take place in Bradford schools has caused frustration among ventilation experts, school leaders and school safety campaigners. Despite ample evidence that airborne transmission is driving the pandemic, and that appropriate air purifying technology is effective in reducing the risk of transmission in classrooms, the government has decided to fund air purifiers for just 30 primary schools that are taking part in the trial.
No promises to roll the purifiers out to other schools have been made. The earliest this would take place is next year. This blow comes alongside the absence of social distancing, face coverings, bubbles or isolation of close contacts in schools. There is also currently no plan to vaccinate children under the age of 16, aside from those who are extremely vulnerable.
British exceptionalism is blocking the majority of our nation’s children age 12 and over from deriving protection and stability which children across the globe are deriving from being administered with safe and effective vaccines. This is stymying the protection of children in our devolved nations into the bargain. Thankfully, Westminster has not been able to block the protection of children and young people in these nations from airborne transmission: local and devolved governments have understandably taken the opportunity to act.
Anglesey County Council in Wales installed CO2 monitors in schools early in the pandemic, and First Minister Nichola Sturgeon has confirmed that all Scottish schools will be provided with CO2 monitors and funding for ventilation improvements, which should be identified by October half-term. Similar action has been taken in numerous other parts of the world, including the USA and Ireland.
SAGE’s acknowledgement of the usefulness of CO2 monitors and HEPA filters in mitigation of airborne transmission runs back at least as far as October 2020, and the Health and Safety Executive’s website provides assurance that employer’s – and therefore schools – duty to provide safe indoor air has not altered during the pandemic. Despite this, schools in most parts of the UK are not provided with funding support to mitigate airborne transmission; instead, they are left to rely on valiant charitable efforts which aim to plug a gap that only government funding can – and should – resolve.
Parents United UK and One Voice’s Global Safe Schools Open Letter calls for “comprehensive mitigation of long-range airborne transmission risks in every school, including short term measures such as the provision of Indoor Air Quality monitors, HEPA filtration where ventilation is insufficient, and full resourcing of ventilation improvements across the entire education building stock” to meet up-to-date industry guidelines. The letter also states that “statutory ventilation standards will be needed to ensure that all public buildings and workplaces become safe havens from the death and disease presently caused by poor indoor air quality.”
Our frustration that such an urgent need is being ignored by the UK government has been echoed by ventilation experts, school leaders and scientists alike. Repeated recommendations for the mitigation of airborne transmission in schools have been made by medical experts and teaching organisations, amid incredulity that Westminster refuses to provide schools with funding for ventilation, even during the pandemic. Evidence that poor indoor air quality is deleterious to both academic performance and human health has raised considerable concern, particularly in respect of children’s developing lung capacity.
Mr Johnson’s government would do well to learn the lessons of the damning report on schools and coronavirus from the Institute for Government, published the same day as the announcement of the decision to offer vaccination to 16 and 17-year-olds; invest in our children’s safety and stability, and empower our local government to take action on the ground to enact that investment.
Should the government continue with its British exceptionalism on ventilation and vaccination for children and young people, it will once again be failing to live up to its own rhetoric of prioritising their wellbeing and education: the burden of disability and disadvantage our children stand to acquire as a result could prevent the UK from being “World Beating” for decades to come.
— AUTHORS —
▫ Parents United, grassroots, parent-led campaign for a sensible, safe, and sustainable approach to UK Schools.
GET THEM INVOLVED:
- Global Safe Schools: UK Response Letter | Parents United
[This piece was first published in PMP Magazine on 14 August 2021. | The author writes in a personal capacity.]
(Cover: Flickr/Number 10. - PM Boris Johnson. | 12 August 2021. / Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.)