As schools return, the highly transmissible Delta variant has added an extra layer of concern to headteachers, teachers, parents, and children. What do experts and health professionals think is the best way to deal with COVID-19 in the new school year?
First published in September 2021.
WHAT THE GOVERNMENT SAYS
Gavin Williamson, Education Secretary:
“School communities still need to follow Covid precautions, especially regular testing for pupils, families and staff. But it is not just a matter for schools, parents too have a responsibility to make sure that their children are tested regularly.
“I know that there are many things people would rather be doing than testing but it’s really important to make time for it.
“The last thing we want is for schools to partially close again, or for whole classes of pupils to be at home self-isolating. That should only ever be the last resort.”
Education Sec. Gavin Williamson. | Number 10
WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY
Dr Hans Kluge, head of the WHO’s Europe region:
“The pandemic has caused the most catastrophic disruption to education in history. It is therefore vital that classroom-based learning continues uninterrupted across the European Region. This is of paramount importance for children’s education, mental health and social skills, for schools to help equip our children to be happy and productive members of society.
“It will be some time before we can put the pandemic behind us but educating children safely in a physical school setting must remain our primary objective, so we don’t rob them of the opportunities they so deserve. We encourage all countries to keep schools open and urge all schools to put in place measures to minimize the risk of COVID-19 and the spread of different variants.
“Vaccination is our best line of defence against the virus, and for the pandemic to end we must rapidly scale up vaccinations fairly in all countries, including supporting vaccine production and sharing of doses, to protect the most vulnerable, everywhere. We must also continue to follow the public health and social measures we know work, including testing, sequencing, tracing, isolation and quarantine.”
Swaminarayan School Vaccination Centre. | Number 10
Dr Kit Yates, Author and Mathematical Biologist, Senior Lecturer, Department of Mathematical Sciences, University of Bath:
“On Thursday I am sending my kids back to a school with very few mitigations against the transmission of covid. If you, like me, are feeling anxious then know that you are not alone.
“We are 18 months into this. There are public health measures which we know work to mitigate the spread of covid, including ventilation, masks and vaccination. The majority of our children are being denied these measures in the indoor spaces in which they spend much of their time.
“We have had so long to do something about this, yet in recent months we have actually gone backwards (removing masks, bubbles, isolation of contacts etc).
“The impact of this is potentially disastrous. We will see cases rise in young people, but also in older age groups with all the attendant consequences (illness, hospitalisations and deaths and Long covid). For me, this is totally unacceptable.”
Primary School in Stoke on Trent. | Number 10
Professor Trish Greenhalgh, Professor of Primary Care Health Sciences, Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, University of Oxford:
Responding to the claim that by Public Health England’s medical director, Dr Yvonne Doyle, that schools are not “drivers” or “hubs” of Covid infection:
“They are, actually. Why wouldn’t they be? Schools bring unvaccinated, mostly unmasked people together for prolonged periods in indoor spaces that are inadequately ventilated. Physics innit.”
Dr Yvonne Doyle. | Number 10
Dr Zubaida Haque, Commissioner in the Hamilton Commission, former Interim Director of the Runnymede Trust, founding member of Independent SAGE:
“I still can’t get my head around the fact that a child from a household where someone is positive can still attend school! On what scientific basis did the Education Secretary make this decision? This is not only reckless, when cases are high and children are unvaxxed, it’s unethical.”
National COVID Memorial wall in London. | Geograph/Jim Osley
Professor Christina Pagel, Professor of Operational Research, Clinical Operational Research Unit, University College London, member of Independent SAGE:
“Instead of trying to make schools safer, Public Health England simply deny they are a problem. Existing measures are woefully inadequate and do not follow advice from the US CDC, the European CDC or the WHO.”
— AUTHORS —
▫ PMP News reporting.
GET THEM INVOLVED:
[This piece was first published in PMP Magazine on 3 September 2021. | The author writes in a personal capacity.]
(Cover: Adobe Stock/skrotov. / Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.)