Many secondary schools will have a phased return during the week, allowing pupils to take Covid tests and face masks will be worn in classrooms, while most primary schools are expected to open for all pupils from Monday.
Meanwhile, NHS chiefs have warned that they will have to start cutting patient care unless chancellor Rishi Sunak finds £8 billion this week for extra Covid-19 costs, the Times reports. Hospitals have accused Mr Sunak of “robbing NHS budgets” by refusing to meet the full cost of treating 8,021 coronavirus patients in hospitals at present following ministers 1 per cent pay rise offer to frontline staff.
‘It’s going to be tough having masks in classrooms,’ says head teacher
Pepe Di’Iasio, head teacher at Wales High School in Rotherham told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I’m feeling a real mixture of excitement that we’re coming back (to school).
“But also a little bit of apprehension and anxiety as well because we’re going from a situation where many of us have been in our own bubble with our families at home, to a situation where there will be 2000 people back in the confined space of a school”.
Mr Di’Iasio said that testing is providing him “with a sense of confidence” that students can safely return to school, but he expressed concerns over compulsory facemasks.
“I think it’s going to be tough having masks in classrooms. I think we are as a nation becoming used to wearing masks in all sorts of situations, but wearing a mask all day in a classroom is going to be tough for young people”.
Adults living in deprived ares more likely to report vaccine hesitancy, ONS finds
Adults living in the most deprived areas of England were more likely to report vaccine hesitancy (16 per cent) than adults in the least deprived areas (7 per cent), the ONS also found.
Across Britain as a whole, working age adults (aged 16 to 64 years) who said their gross income was up to £10,000 a year were more likely to be hesitant about receiving the vaccine (14 per cent) than those who said they earned £40,000 to £50,000 or more than £50,000 a year (both 5 per cent).
One in 10 (10 per cent) adults educated below degree level reported vaccine hesitancy – slightly higher than the percentage of adults educated at degree level or equivalent, adults with “other” qualifications or no qualifications.
16-29 year olds hesitant over Covid-19 vaccine, says ONS
Among adults in Great Britain aged 16 to 29 years, 17 per cent reported hesitancy towards the Covid-19 vaccine, compared with 1 pe cent of adults aged 80 years and over, the ONS said.
The figure for adults aged 30 to 49 is 13 per cent.
The same proportion of adults aged 70 to 74 years and those aged 75 to 79 years reported vaccine hesitancy (both 1 per cent).
“Higher rates of hesitancy in the younger age groups could be driven by the prioritisation of older age groups in the vaccine rollout,” the ONS said.
The estimates are based on those demonstrating hesitancy towards the vaccine, not necessarily a negative feeling, the ONS added.
More than four in 10 black adults in the UK hesitant about receiving Covid-19 vaccine
More than four in 10 black adults in Great Britain are likely to be hesitant about receiving the Covid-19 vaccine – the highest level among all ethnic groups, new figures suggest.
Some 44% of black adults reported vaccine hesitancy, compared with 17% of mixed adults, 16% of Asian adults, 8% of white adults, and 18% of Chinese adults or adults from other ethnic groups, according to a survey from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
The findings cover the period January 13 to February 7.
The ONS defines vaccine hesitancy as adults who have been offered the vaccine and decided not to be vaccinated; who report being very or fairly unlikely to have the vaccine if offered; and who responded “neither likely nor unlikely”, “don’t know” or “prefer not to say” when asked how likely or unlikely they are to have the vaccine if offered.
It’s ‘not yet clear’ what harms there will be to children in the longer term, says Professor Viner
Professor Russell Viner, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said it is not yet clear what harms there will be to children in the longer term.
Asked about the impact of the pandemic on young people, he told Times Radio: “We closed down our children’s lives. The key issues around meeting friends, development socially, learning to trust, learning to be human, learning all of those things, that’s been lost as well as the loss of actual straight-up learning, and many of those things can’t be done online.
“I’ve got a 15-year-old, and I can certainly see he has gone backwards over this online learning time.
“The harms to mental health are very clear. We know that there’s a lot more anxiety and depression and eating disorders around among children and young people.
“The thing we don’t know is how much of this is essentially a superficial flesh wound that will heal when they’re back at school, and how much of it will be lead to longer-term scarring.
“We really don’t know that. And the way that the schools and the Government respond will be key to that”.
Schools can open but everything else should ‘stay locked down’ for at least three weeks
A leading children’s doctor has warned that schools can only open safely if everything else “stays locked down” for at least three weeks.
Professor Russell Viner, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, told Times Radio: “Sage has concluded that reopening schools adds probably about 0.2 or thereabouts to the R number.
“We know that reopening schools will increase transmission, but we should be able to keep the R below one – and, as you’ll recall, that’s the key thing to stop the runaway increase of infections.
“It’s very plausible, in fact I think very likely, that we will keep the R below one with schools open with these mitigations in place.
“And I think the key thing is that children themselves, and parents, don’t think ‘The schools are open, we can relax, we can mix outside of school’ – in a sense, come out of lockdown around the school opening.
“The modelling – and I think the Government has been clear on this – is about we can reopen schools safely if everything else stays locked down over the next three weeks”.
Mask-wearing in schools not mandatory, but ‘strongly encouraged’
Children’s minister Vicky Ford said secondary school students should be “strongly encouraged” to wear masks, but their use is not mandatory.
Asked whether schools, where there is not much mask-wearing should close, she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “No, I think that we should strongly encourage them to wear the masks, I think the vast majority of young people, they get this.
“But there will be some who will be very anxious and nervous about doing so and that’s why we understand that and that is why we have not made it mandatory but we have strongly encouraged this”.
“They should not take the risk, we all want to make sure we can keep Covid out of the classrooms here,” she said.
Schools are ‘absolutely’ safe for children, says Sage member
Professor Calum Semple, from the University of Liverpool and a member of Sage, said schools were “absolutely” safe for children and it was safe for schools to go back.
“The subtle question about transmission and teachers, and bringing it home, well the school infection survey is showing that primary school children are half as likely to have had it and probably half as likely to transmit it,” he told BBC Breakfast.
“Secondary school children (are) slightly less protected because as they become adolescents they effectively have the biology of an adult, but even there, they’re half to a quarter as likely to have had it and transmit it.
“So the main driver is not the pupil-teacher relationship.
“When we talk about schools, it is the fact that the school brings adults together, whether that’s teaching staff, the domestic staff, the catering staff, and it’s an opportunity for mixing”.
He said the issue was down to “the fact that schools are a place of work”.
He added that it was “inevitable that we will see a rise in cases” as schools go back, but it was not so important if the reproduction number (the R) rose slightly.
He said it was more about “the absolute number of cases going to hospital and needing intensive care”.
The advice for teachers “is going to be wearing face masks, being really careful in the common room – their colleagues are more of a risk to them than the children,” he told BBC Breakfast.
He said society needed to learn how to live with the virus, adding: “It’s going to be difficult and it is going to mean some social distancing and face mask-wearing, good ventilation until really late summer when we’ve got the vast majority people vaccinated”.
Mayor of London announces more transport services for school reopening
Sadiq Khan says that more public transport has been laid on in the capital today to ensure “everyone can travel safely” as pupils return to school on Monday, March 8.
He tweeted: “Schools across England are reopening today. In London there will be additional services on some routes to make sure everyone can travel safely. Please help keep school services for school children only—use regular bus services if you need to travel”.
New Zealand to use only Pfizer virus vaccine
New Zealand says it will now use only the Pfizer vaccine to inoculate its population against the coronavirus, departing from earlier plans to use four different vaccines.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the strategy Monday, saying the decision was based on the Pfizer vaccine’s effectiveness. She said this would make it easier and fairer for all New Zealanders to have access to the same vaccine.
However, the strategy may also be driven in part by delays in getting vaccines approved. So far, New Zealand’s medical regulators have approved only the Pfizer vaccine and are reviewing two other shots.
Ms Ardern said New Zealand has purchased 10 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, enough to inoculate all 5 million residents with the required two doses each. She said most of the doses are expected to arrive in New Zealand during the second half of this year.