The number of suspected coronavirus outbreaks in schools nearly doubled last week, according to figures from Public Health England (PHE). The news is a stark warning about how the Tory easing of the lockdown is putting health at risk.
The PHE figures cover the third week that primary schools across England reopened to wider numbers of children. It was the first week that secondary schools also began reopening to some year groups.
PHE said that there was “little change in the number of outbreaks in care homes, hospitals or ‘other settings’” last week, week 25. Yet in schools, cases rose sharply.
“School outbreaks have increased over the past two weeks from 15 in week 23, to 24 in week 24, to 44 in week 25,” it said.
Schools suffered 16 more outbreaks last week than were recorded in hospitals.
PHE said the rise “coincides with wider school reopening”. It also said the figures follow an “expansion of testing and tracing”. But this rise in testing and tracing has not detected a similar rise in other settings.
The PHE said it expects most of the outbreaks to be linked to Covid-19.
Out of the 44 school outbreaks recorded last week, 23 tested positive for the virus. This is a rise from 12 confirmed cases the week before.
And schools are accounting for a bigger proportion of outbreaks across England. Overall, the number of new acute respiratory outbreaks went up from 199 to 223 last week. Schools made up nearly 20 percent of them—compared to 12 percent the week before.
The news came as Boris Johnson pledged to get every child back into school for five days a week from September. The Tories plan to do this by expanding the “bubbles” that children are in from a maximum of 15 students to 30 or more.
Some reports even claim that whole years could be treated as one bubble with no social distancing—cramming hundreds of students together.
The bubbles are supposed to minimise the spread of the virus. The idea is that, if a child or worker contracts the virus, the transmission will be limited to those in the same bubble.
Expanding them to the size of what were already overcrowded classes or whole years puts many more people at risk.
And Johnson gave no plans for how such large classes are supposed to move around schools – in corridors, lunch halls and playgrounds— safely.
The truth is that the Tories don’t care about the welfare of children, school workers or their families. Their policies are driven by a desire to push parents back to work—regardless of whether this risks a second spike in the virus.
And they will change their “advice” on how we should stay safe in order to ram through their agenda. School workers and unions have said a full return to schools is not safe because they are not big enough to maintain social distancing.
So, the Tories have ditched the two-metre social distancing rule that we have been told for months is key to minimising the spread of Covid-19.
The sharp rise in cases has taken place despite the fact that a majority of parents have kept their children at home. If the Tories get away with forcing all children back—without proper safety measures—the results could be catastrophic.