It is not safe to reopen schools on 1 June in the current conditions, a leading group of scientists has said.
A draft document issued by the Independent SAGE (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) on whether schools should reopen said test, track and isolate programmes should be in place and tested before schools reopen.
The release of the document, titled Should Schools Reopen? Interim Findings and Concerns Draft Document for Public Discussion, comes after widespread controversy over Boris Johnson’s announcement that schools will undergo a staggered reopening from June 1.
In it, the scientists said: “We believe that decisions on school opening should be guided by evidence of low levels of COVID-19 infections in the community and the ability to rapidly respond to new infections through a local test, track and isolate strategy.
“There is no clear evidence that these conditions are met. Until they are it is not safe to open schools on 1 June.”
It added: “Some rural areas might be ready to re-open schools earlier than other places. Estimates of levels of infections must be based on up-to-date real time, detailed, local data on suspected and confirmed cases.
“To ensure that any local outbreaks are quickly spotted and contained, we strongly recommend that local test, track and isolate programmes are in place and tested before schools re-open.
“In cases where schools reopen where these safeguards are not in place, we suggest alternative testing strategies at the end of this document.”
The document went on to say that delaying a school reopening by two weeks, to 15 June, would roughly half the risk to children, while delaying until September would be less risky still.
It compared the risk to children with the daily chance of being killed in a road traffic accident, saying schools reopening in September presented a slightly lower risk and reopening in June a slightly higher risk to a child than the background risk of a road traffic accident.
“The main takeaway from this kind of mathematics is that risk falls relatively quickly over a week or two after commitment to a 1 June reopening date,” it added.
“This means that delaying re-opening by a couple of weeks could allow time to find solutions to local challenges and set up strong local testing procedures while knowing that risks are getting lower.”
During his announcement setting out a roadmap for the easing of lockdown restrictions, Boris Johnson said schools could reopen from 1 June, starting with reception, Year 1 and Year 6.
But the move sparked concerns from parents and teaching unions, who branded the decision “reckless”.
Some local authorities, including Liverpool City Council, have already said they will refuse to open and will assess each individual school.
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