By Sadie Robinson
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Full schools reopening will fuel Covid-19 spread with tens of thousands dead, warn scientists

This article is over 2 years, 11 months old
Issue 2745
Boris Johnsons plan could cause up to 100,000 deaths despite the vaccine rollout
Boris Johnson’s plan could cause up to 100,000 deaths despite the vaccine rollout (Pic: Flickr/Number 10)

A full return to schools and colleges in England this week will contribute to the deaths of tens of thousands more people by spreading Covid-19.

That was the stark message from an online meeting on Saturday hosted by the Zero Covid Coalition group. And it comes as the latest data shows that the decline in infections is slowing—with cases rising in some areas despite lockdown.

The Tories claim to be “following the science” with their plans to ease restrictions. But scientists say the plans will mean more cases and deaths.

Dr Deepti Gurdasani, a clinical epidemiologist at Queen Mary University, pointed to models of how the virus will develop, commissioned by the government.

“In different scenarios of easing we see at least 30,000 deaths,” she told Saturday’s meeting. “We can see up to 100,000 deaths. These models account for vaccine rollout. So that is not preventing tens of thousands of deaths.

“It is implied in the plan that these deaths are acceptable.”

Gurdasani said school age cases are closely linked to the opening and closing of schools and that schools “contribute a lot” to transmission. “The peak in children preceded the peak in the community – it followed school cases,” she said.

And new variants could make reopening schools more dangerous because they spread more easily.

“When we started opening school in September, within four weeks we saw a quadrupling of cases,” said Gurdasani. “Now we have a new variant and we’re hearing about many outbreaks in school settings in many parts of the world.”

Professor John Edmunds from the government’s Sage group of scientists said cases remain high. “The latest ONS survey suggests there are almost a quarter of a million individuals who would test positive in England alone,” he said.

“That’s roughly one in 20. It’s still a very high prevalence, roughly the same as mid-October. That was two weeks away from a lockdown.”

He added that the data showed that “we have something like 1 in 200 secondary school age children and 1 in 300 primary school age children currently harbouring the virus”.

“Testing is unlikely to pick up every case,” he warned. “Some cases will escape the testing regime and are likely to cause transmission.”

The Tories are pushing for a lifting of restrictions in full knowledge that people will die, because it sees those most at risk as expendable.

Professor Christina Pagel from the independent Sage group of scientists pointed out that the virus doesn’t affect everyone equally.

“The more deprived an area, the more Covid there has been,” she said. “And people in the most deprived areas who get Covid are more likely to need intensive care.”

The Tories are pushing for a lifting of restrictions in full knowledge that people will die, because it sees those most at risk as expendable.

Figures show more than double the number of intensive care unit admissions for people living in the most deprived areas compared to those in the least deprived.

And Pagel said that lockdown “actually worsens inequality”.

“The least deprived can work from home, order things in,” she explained. “They can have a lockdown. People who don’t have the option of working from home, who live in crowded areas can’t have a lockdown.

“They have to go to work, their kids are in school.”

She said Covid-19 is becoming a disease of the poor. “And I worry that this government is ok with that.”


It’s not a good look for the Tories to say that the poorest will die as a result of their policies, even though they have admitted this. So instead, they focus on pretending to care about education.

Yet as Edmunds said, “There is a risk that children will suffer significant disruption to their education in the summer term.” This is because the government has refused to put in safety measures that could limit the spread of coronavirus.

Workers’ action in schools forces huge Tory retreat
Workers’ action in schools forces huge Tory retreat
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And as more restrictions are lifted, Edmunds predicted a significant rise in cases “from mid-May onwards”. And this doesn’t take account of new variants, the emergence of which is a “significant danger over the next few months”.

Many education workers are rightly organising to resist the Tories’ deadly plan.

UCU president Vicky Blake said union members are “pulling out all the stops” and fighting for teaching to stay online “wherever possible”.

“Where our members are feeling at risk, we’ve promised to support them,” she added.

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the NEU union, said a phased return would be safer. He pointed out that unions “had an effect” in January, when primary school workers refused to return to unsafe schools.

Courtney said it will be “vital” to look at data after schools reopen to judge the impact. But the impact is already depressingly predictable.

On Friday, the Isle of Man closed all of its schools following a rise in cases, especially among young people. Chief minister Howard Quayle said, “We need to prevent children from mixing.

“If you have children, they must not mix with other children from other households.”

The Isle of Man had come out of lockdown on 1 February and reopened schools, after 17 days of no unexplained community Covid cases. Last week it had 58 cases.

It’s already clear that a full return to schools and colleges without enough measures in place to protect safety is going to kill more ordinary people. Workers should refuse to go along with it.

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