When will schools reopen? Return straight after half-term looks unlikely – Chronicle Live

Boris Johnson hinted that schools may not reopen immediately after half-term after Health Secretary Matt Hancock revealed the four things which need to happen before lockdown is relaxed.

The Prime Minister said the Government will have to wait until at least mid-February to start looking at when it can scale down lockdown restrictions, but any changes can only be considered if the vaccine programme is on track.

The Government says the UK is on course to vaccinate 15 million high priority people by February 15, but ministers will only consider easing lockdown measures once those vaccines have taken effect, around two to three weeks after the jabs have been administered.

Ministers have identified March as the month when lockdown restrictions could be relaxed – although they will be replaced by a tier system, rather than removing all the regulations at once.

Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England, Dr Jenny Harries, told the Education Committee that school reopening will likely be on a staggered regional basis rather than at the same time throughout England.

Will schools reopen immediately after half-term? Why that looks unlikely

The half-term break is due to finish on Friday, February 19, with the second half of the spring term due to start on Monday, February 22 – which is just a week after the February 15 vaccination target.

That suggests schools may have to wait at least another week or fortnight after the half-term break before they can welcome back all pupils, as the vaccines administered on February 15 do not take effect for two to three weeks.

Mr Johnson, on a visit to the manufacturing facility for the Oxford/Astrazeneca vaccine, said: “I understand completely that people want to get back to normal as fast as we possibly can. It does depend on things going well.

“It depends on the vaccination programme going well, it depends on there being no new variants that throw our plans out and we have to mitigate against, and it depends on everybody, all of us, remembering that we’re not out of the woods yet.”

Mid-February would be the time to take stock of the situation, he said, but any change to the measures would not be immediate.

“It’s only really then that we can talk about the way ahead and what steps we can take to relax.

“I’m afraid I’ve got to warn people it will be gradual, you can’t just open up in a great open sesame, in a great bang, because I’m afraid the situation is still pretty precarious.”

Mr Hancock outlined four things which need to happen before the lockdown measures can be relaxed and schools can return to classroom learning for all pupils.

He said: “We’ve got to watch the data and the Prime Minister, when he brought in the national lockdown, set out four considerations

“We’ve got to see the number of deaths coming down and, sadly, we haven’t seen that yet, we need to clearly see the pressure on the NHS reducing and, as you’ve just heard from [NHS medical director for England] Professor [Stephen] Powis, we are not seeing that yet.

“We must see the vaccination programme working and the rollout is going really well, so that is clearly on track but it’s still got a massive effort, and we need to see the efficacy of the vaccine working in practice saving lives, which we know that it will from the clinical trials but I want to see that actually happening on the ground.

“The fourth consideration is that there isn’t some other new variant in the same way that in December we discovered the new variant that caused so many difficulties and meant that the old three-tiered system ceased to work.

“We monitor all the time for new variants and, as you know, we’ve taken very significant and rapid action to protect Britain from new variants that are spotted overseas.”

The latest figures showed a record 37,475 people were in hospital with coronavirus, while there had been a further 599 reported deaths within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 and 37,535 new cases.

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi has suggested that a gradual easing of lockdown restrictions will not begin before early March.

He told BBC Breakfast: “If we take the mid-February target, two weeks after that you get your protection, pretty much, for the Pfizer/BioNTech, three weeks for the Oxford/AstraZeneca, you are protected.

“One of the things we don’t know yet, and the deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam is on record as saying ‘look give me a couple of months and I’ll tell you’, is the impact of the vaccine on transmission rates ie on infecting people.

“So there are a number of caveats that stand in the way of us reopening the economy.

“It will be gradually, it will be probably through the tiered system but you’re looking at that sort of period, two to three weeks after the middle of February, after we’ve protected the top four cohorts.”

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