The UK health authorities said pupils missing school is worse than the risk of catching the COVID-19. This week, the chief medical officers have even issued a joint statement reassuring parents that it’s safe for children to return to school in September.
After months of lockdown, millions of pupils across the United Kingdom are due to return to school within a week. As England’s Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Whitt, noted in a joint statement, risk of children catching the novel pathogen in school is “incredibly small”. In fact, school attendance is very important.
“The chances of many children being damaged by not going to school are incredibly clear,” the top medical official said and added that missing school could cause “mental and physical ill-health in the long run” for kids.
Thus, the balance of risk is very strongly in favour of children going to school because many more are likely to be harmed by not going than harmed by going, even during this pandemic.
While schools have already reopened in Scotland, the British Cabinet has said all pupils, in all year groups. The statement from the medical chiefs said that while infection in schools can happen, it’s not a “common route of transmission”.
This September, the health protocol will be reinforced to maintain social distancing, hand-sanitizing and good infection control inside and outside classroom settings. In addition, the prime minister’s recent message stressed there is a moral duty to reopen schools and that schools must reopen safely.
Among the critics of schools reopening is the Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer. According to him, children back to school had been put at “serious risk” by a “week of chaos” over exam results.
UK needs the right R number for a school reopening
The medical officials said that reopening schools would not necessarily mean an increase in people catching the disease, but if the reproduction rate – the R number – goes above one anywhere for any reason, then they might have to look at increasing lockdown rules in certain areas.
The R number is how many people on average each infected person, then transmits the infection on to. According to Professor Whitty, by opening schools, the UK is going to bring households together who not otherwise be together.
“The result of that is that it will create some upward pressure on the R, it may increase it… if that happens we will have to respond,” he explained.