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UK drops plan for imminent school reopenings

By EARLE GALE in London | China Daily Global | Updated: 2020-06-10 09:02

Children during a class at Heath Mount School as some schools reopen, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), Watton-at-Stone, Britain, June 2, 2020.[Photo/Agencies]

The British government has unexpectedly abandoned its plan to relax its novel coronavirus lockdown so all primary schools are reopened by early July.

The ruling Conservative Party had wanted under-11s back in class for at least four weeks before the six-week summer vacation but now concedes that will not happen.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson announced the decision in the House of Commons on Tuesday. Helen Whately, a minister in the Department of Health and Social Care, explained on BBC Breakfast that the government does not "want to take risks that might increase the infection rates".

The decision followed an admission by Health Secretary Matt Hancock on Monday that secondary schools may remain closed until September.

Teaching unions welcomed the decision, with Patrick Roach, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters and Union of Women Teachers, saying: "It has been abundantly clear for some time that the announcement by the government of arbitrary dates for the wider reopening of schools was ill-considered, premature, and unworkable."

He said the "rush" to reopen schools was part of a campaign to restart the economy in spite of the risk of triggering a second wave of novel coronavirus infections and cases of COVID-19.

But Anne Longfield, children's commissioner for England, said on BBC Breakfast children would suffer and that gaps between those being educated at home and those who are not will widen.

She said "about 8 million children, very likely won't return to the classroom until September".

Robert Halfon, the Conservative Party member of Parliament who chairs the House of Commons' education committee, said on Radio 4's Today program that the nation was prioritizing the reopening of pubs over the reopening of schools.

And the Financial Times added that more than half of Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Cabinet wanted to support the reopening of pubs with a relaxation of the 2-meter buffer zone required under social distancing rules.

Meanwhile, doctors, lawyers, and campaigners for senior citizens launched a high court legal challenge against the government on Tuesday in the hope of forcing an independent inquiry into why there was not enough personal protective equipment, or PPE, during the early weeks of the pandemic. They say the lack of PPE may have contributed to the deaths of the 300 United Kingdom health workers who have perished with COVID-19.

Also, a group calling itself Quash Quarantine, which represents 500 travel companies, is considering legal action, in the hope of forcing the government to abandon its requirement for arrivals in the UK to submit to 14 days of quarantine.

At Tuesday's daily news briefing, Business Secretary Alok Sharma defended the government's decision to change its mind on the reopening of schools. He also detailed how it has supported employees who have been stood down because of the lockdown.

He added that the "latest step in the careful restarting of our economy" will take place on Monday with the reopening of non-essential shops, as long as they comply with COVID-19 secure guidelines.

Sharma also said the government is not yet ready to reduce the size of the 2-meter buffer zone required to be around people under social distancing rules, as requested by many businesses, but said it will do so "when it is safe to do so".

Sharma also announced there had been an additional 286 deaths attributed to COVID-19, taking the nation's total to 40,883.

The lockdown and resulting nosedive in the use of automobiles has led oil giant BP to decide to cut 15 percent of its global workforce, some 10,000 jobs, The Guardian newspaper reports.

A study in the British Medical Journal says more than half of the pregnant women admitted to UK hospitals with novel coronavirus infections during March and the first half of April were from black, Asian, or minority ethnic backgrounds, a demographic known in the UK as BAME.

Lead researcher Professor Marian Knight, from the Nuffield Department of Population Health at the University of Oxford, called for "urgent investigation and explanation" of the phenomenon.

The Institute of Fiscal Studies delivered a report of its own, in which it puts the COVID-19 death rate among people from black African backgrounds in the UK at 3.7 times the average. The IFS said weight and health conditions may have played a role in the high mortality rate but called for additional research.

Elsewhere in Europe, the Russian capital, Moscow, has allowed hairdressers and beauty salons to reopen. Belgium has allowed most businesses to reopen, including bars and restaurants, and Denmark has reopened Copenhagen's Tivoli Gardens amusement park.

But the Bank of France had less optimistic news, saying the French economy will not return to pre-pandemic levels until the middle of 2022.

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