The Prime Minister’s comments came a day before pupils in England are set to return to school for the first time in two months on London as part of the first stage of easing the third nation-wide lockdown.
Some scientists have raised concerns about how schools reopening could push the R value above 1, causing Covid-19 to spread faster.
But Mr Johnson told reporters on Sunday: “You ask about the risk (of schools returning) – I think the risk is actually in not going back to school tomorrow given all the suffering, all the loss of learning we have seen.”
PM ‘hopeful’ return of pupils will go as planned
Boris Johnson said he is “very hopeful” the return of pupils will go to plan as he warned the risk of keeping classrooms locked outweighed a school-led spike in Covid cases.
Pupils in England are set to return to school for the first time in two months on Monday as part of the first stage of lockdown easing.
Some scientists have raised concerns the increased levels of interaction could push the reproduction number – the R value – above 1, causing coronavirus to spread faster.
The Prime Minister echoed the warnings of education experts that more damage was being done to pupils by keeping them at home than having them return to in-person lessons.
Speaking to broadcasters on Sunday, Mr Johnson said: “You ask about the risk (of schools returning) – I think the risk is actually in not going back to school tomorrow given all the suffering, all the loss of learning we have seen”.
Mr Johnson said he believed pupils, parents and teachers were “ready” to go back, with more than 20,000 schools set to open their gates once again.
“Tomorrow, on March 8, is the big step on the road map that we hope is a road map to freedom,” the Prime Minister said during a visit to a north London vaccines centre.
“It is made possible by the rollout of the vaccination programme.
“I’m very hopeful that it will work, it will all go according to plan and that all kids, all pupils, will be back in schools tomorrow.
“I’m massively grateful to parents who have put up with so much throughout the pandemic and teachers who have done an amazing job of keeping going.
“I do think we are ready, I think people want to go back, they feel it, they feel the need for it”.
No new Covid-19 deaths recorded in Scotland
Scotland has recorded no coronavirus deaths in the last 24 hours and the second lowest number of new daily cases in 2020.
The latest statistics show 390 people tested positive in the past 24 hours, with no fatalities.
It means the number of people who have died with the virus remains at 7,421 under the daily measure.
While death figures tend to be lower at weekends when register offices are closed, the 330 case number is the second lowest recorded this year.
On Monday, 386 cases were recorded – the lowest since November.
The daily test positivity rate is 3.2 per cent , up from 3 per cent the previous day.
Coronavirus cases have continued to drop in recent weeks, with the test positivity rate having now been below 5 per cent for 13 days in a row.
The 5 per cent figure is used by the World Health Organisation to determine if the pandemic is under control.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon indicated on Friday that coronavirus measures may be be eased next week as a result of the drop in cases.
She said: “I’m hopeful that next week we might be able to make some relatively minor, but I think important, changes in our ability to meet outdoors and also how young people are able to interact with their friends outdoors”.
Scotland records 390 positive Covid-19 tests in 24 hours
Scotland has recorded 390 positive coronavirus tests in the past 24 hours, Scottish Government figures show.
No deaths have been recorded and the death toll under the daily measure – of people who first tested positive for the virus within the previous 28 days – remains at 7,421.
The daily test positivity rate is 3.2 per cent, up from 3% the previous day.
Of the new cases, 104 are in Greater Glasgow and Clyde, 63 in Lothian and 61 in Lanarkshire.
There are 628 people in hospital confirmed to have the virus, down 11 in 24 hours, and 61 are in intensive care, down two.
A total of 1,759,750 people have received their first dose of a coronavirus vaccine as of Sunday morning and 115,930 have received their second dose.
Israel reopens most of its economy
Israel has reopened most of its economy as part of its final phase of lifting coronavirus lockdown restrictions, some of them in place since September.
The easing of restrictions comes after months of government-imposed shutdowns and less than three weeks before the country’s fourth parliamentary elections in two years.
Israel has surged forward with immunising nearly 40 per cent of its population in just more than two months.
Bars and restaurants, event halls, sporting events, hotels and all primary and secondary schools that had been closed to the public for months could reopen with some restrictions in place on the number of people in attendance, and with certain places open to the vaccinated only.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government approved the easing of limitations on Saturday night, including the reopening of the main international airport to a limited number of incoming passengers each day.
Israel has confirmed at least 800,000 cases of Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic and 5,861 deaths.
Covid-19 hospitalisation death toll rises to 84,366
A further 90 people who tested positive for coronavirus have died in hospital in England, bringing the total number of confirmed deaths reported in hospitals to 84,366, NHS England said on Sunday.
Patients were aged between 34 and 97. All except three, aged between 54 and 87, had known underlying health conditions.
The deaths were between January 17 and March 6, with the majority being on or after March 3.
There were 20 other deaths reported with no positive Covid-19 test result.
Austria suspends AstraZeneca vaccine batch after death
Austrian authorities have suspended vaccinations with a batch of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine as a precaution while investigating the death of one person and the illness of another after the shots, a health agency said on Sunday.
“The Federal Office for Safety in Health Care (BASG) has received two reports in a temporal connection with a vaccination from the same batch of the AstraZeneca vaccine in the district clinic of Zwettl” in Lower Austria province, it said.
A 49-year-old woman died as a result of severe coagulation disorders, while a 35-year-old woman developed a pulmonary embolism and is recovering, it said.
“Currently there is no evidence of a causal relationship with the vaccination,” BASG said.
Reopening England’s schools is step towards normality, PM says
The reopening of England’s schools to all pupils on Monday will mark the first step back towards normality, the Prime Minister said.
“The reopening of schools marks a truly national effort to beat this virus,” Boris Johnson said.
“It is because of the determination of every person in this country that we can start moving closer to a sense of normality – and it is right that getting our young people back into the classroom is the first step”.
New Caledonia into lockdown as infections emerge
Local authorities ordered New Caledonia, a French archipelago in the South Pacific, to be placed under lockdown for at least two weeks to try to prevent the virus from spreading.
The decision comes after nine new infections were confirmed on Sunday. The president of the Caledonian government, Thierry Santa, said “there’s a very strong risk that the virus starts circulating” on the archipelago.
Beginning Monday, a ban on all nonessential activities will apply and all schools and universities will be closed.
The territory of 270,000 people went under a one-month lockdown at the beginning of the pandemic, which successfully prevented the virus from spreading. Since then, restrictions had been lifted.
New Caledonia has kept its borders almost completely closed, suspending nearly all flights with only a few exceptions and imposing a mandatory 14-day quarantine and testing for travellers.
About 5,200 people have received a first vaccine jab.
Ofsted chief warns of rise of eating disorders and self harming among pupils during lockdown
England’s chief schools inspector has expressed concern about eating disorders and self-harming among children as pupils stuck at home have endured “boredom, loneliness, misery and anxiety” during the two-month school shutdown.
Amanda Spielman said remote education “has been a real slog” for many and that teachers and parents “need to be alert” to more serious mental health difficulties persisting for a minority of children even after classrooms open again from Monday.
Ms Spielman said for the “vast majority of children the restoration of normality” should be enough to “lift those symptoms” of mental health difficulties like loneliness and anxiety.
She told the Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme on Sky News: “There is a minority – and let’s hope it is not too large a minority – whose problems have increased and it is really important that we are good at recognising where problems are arising.
“Things like eating disorders, things like self-harm and mental health services are very aware of the kinds of problems that have been increasing and whether they can expect more cases coming through, so everybody needs to be alert to these”.
Sixth form students want option to repeat school year due to Covid-19 disruption, survey finds
The majority of sixth-form students would prefer to have the opportunity to repeat the year and be given the choice to be assessed by exam rather than by teacher, according to a new survey.
Research by the National Citizen Service (NCS) also found 61% of the young people aged between 16 and 19 questioned opposed shortening the 2021 summer holiday to allow them to catch up from Covid-19 disruption with 21% in favour.
Similarly, 55% of those polled also disagreed with the idea of extending the school day, with 26% in support of the plan.
The survey of 1,084 teenagers found strong support for more extra-curricular activities such as volunteering to be provided, with 72% backing the idea with only 5% opposing.
Some 89% supported a plan to ensure young people have access to work experience opportunities, with only 2% against, with 75% also in favour of being given more learning opportunities outside of school.
On the issue of allowing students to repeat the school year, 51% were in favour while 24% were against the idea.
More than half (55%) supported the idea of allowing students to take exams rather than be assessed by teachers if they prefer, with 25% opposed.
Mark Gifford, chief executive of youth training charity NCS, said: “This research is showing us these young people, who have been directly affected educationally by Covid, want to get on with their lives.
“They want flexibility and also to be able to help their communities recover from the pandemic.
“This is no lost generation but a generation that is desperate to play its part. The numbers of young people who want to volunteer is the standout statistic for NCS and shows these young people care.
“Another indication is that they want to learn and enrich their lives and the lives of others, but that doesn’t have to be in the classroom.
“Those aged 16-19 have suffered a great deal over the last 12 months. We should be listening carefully to what they say”.