Boris Johnson says closing primary schools his biggest regret from first COVID lockdown
PM insists primary schools are safe – with majority in England meant to return on Monday
Johnson facing revolt from unions that claim school returns will fuel pandemic further
Boris Johnson has said he regrets having closed primary schools during the first national lockdown in March last year.
The prime minister said it was his “greatest misgiving” when looking back at his response to the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic.
On Monday, nearly 10 months after those school closures, Johnson was facing a third wave of COVID-19 infections with more than 75% of England facing the toughest Tier 4 restrictions.
This time, however, the majority of primary schools have been told to remain open.
Watch: Boris Johnson says primary schools are safe (from Sunday)
Insisting schools are safe, Johnson said on Monday: “It’s very important to understand that back in March, one of the things I look back on with the greatest misgivings was the closure of primary schools because it’s so important for young people to get an education.
“That’s why closing primary schools is, for all of us, a last resort. That’s why we are looking at everything else we can possibly do to avoid that.
“I would stress schools are safe and the risk to kids is very, very small.”
All of London’s primary schools and those in some surrounding areas worst hit by COVID will not reopen until 18 January, with pupils elsewhere in England expected to return to class this week.
Education unions have warned bringing all pupils back to class could fuel the pandemic further and put teachers at “serious risk” of falling ill.
Johnson, however, rejected this, saying: “The risk to teachers is no greater than it is to anyone else.
“The reasons for wanting to keep schools open I think are very, very powerful.”
One expert, Dr Zubaida Haque, had earlier pointed out there is no evidence teachers do not face a greater risk because there have been no studies assessing the impact of the new coronavirus variant, which is said to be up to 70% more transmissible.
The Independent Sage member tweeted:
Matt Hancock's claim that teachers are no more at risk of contracting #COVID19 than "rest of population" is disingenuous. While @ONS data in Oct showed teachers in England were no more at risk than other key workers, this was BEFORE impact of new variant on children/in schools
— Dr Zubaida Haque (@Zubhaque) January 4, 2021
Meanwhile, secondary schools and colleges in England will have a staggered return, with those taking exams this year resuming in-person teaching on 11 January and other year groups on 18 January.
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