Coronavirus: Britain could reopen primary schools as early as June

Prime Minister Boris Johnson says development of vaccine isn't guaranteed

The British government on Monday published its plan to ease the nationwide coronavirus lockdown in phases in England, with some schools and shops opening from June and recommending people wear face masks in some settings.  AFP photo
The British government on Monday published its plan to ease the nationwide coronavirus lockdown in phases in England, with some schools and shops opening from June and recommending people wear face masks in some settings.  AFP photo

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday said Britain could start to reopen primary schools as early as June but would do so cautiously to keep the infection rate of the coronavirus low.

Ministers are committed to ensuring the rate does not rise above one, meaning the average person who is infected by the virus does not pass it on to more than one other person.

Britain’s current rate is between 0.5 and 0.9.

Mr Johnson paid tribute to teachers and schools that were looking after vulnerable children and children of essential workers during the pandemic.

He said parents could be stopped from returning to their jobs by a lack of people to look after their children.

"If people don't have access to child care, then I think it's only fair to regard that as an obvious barrier to their ability to go back to work," he said,

"I'm sure employers will agree with that.”

“We will do everything we can to make sure teachers, parents, children can have total confidence that we will make those schools and your working environment as safe as possible."

Mr Johnson said the government would publish Covid-19 guidelines for schools in the coming days.

The government published its plan on Monday to ease the coronavirus lockdown in phases in England, with some schools and shops reopening from June.

It recommended that people wear face masks in some settings.

Race for vaccine

Mr Johnson said that developing a vaccine for Covid-19, "was by no means guaranteed", although he was optimistic at the "positive noises" he heard from scientists.

Sir Patrick Vallance, chief scientific adviser to the UK government, said there had been "great progress" in the search for a vaccine and the chance of developing one that works is increasing.

Prof Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, said he was very confident a solution would be found but it would take time.

Mr Johnson said Britain would need to think about how its economy could adapt if a vaccine for the coronavirus were not found quickly.

"If we can't get a vaccine fast, we're going to have to think a lot more about how we make our businesses, our lives, Covid-secure while continuing with economic activity," he said.

Mr Johnson said he had no doubt the British economy would recover from the fallout of the pandemic.

The UK recorded 210 more deaths from the coronavirus in the past 24 hours. That takes the total number of deaths in the country to 32,065.

Britain is the second hardest hit country in the world from Covid-19, behind only the US.

'Confusing' lockdown guidelines

The Johnson government has come under fire for being too vague with its instructions about easing the lockdown.

Its new mantra of “stay alert” instead of “stay at home” is being criticised by ministers for being ambiguous.

Adding to the confusion, the leaders of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland said they did not share Mr Johnson's approach and rejected his new message, instead sticking to the previous "stay at home" slogan.

"Why are some parts of the UK now on a different path to others?" Labour leader Keir Starmer asked in a TV message to the public on Monday.

But on Monday, Mr Johnson insisted that "stay alert" is "absolutely the right message for our country", saying the French government had gone with "roughly the same sort of thing".

"We're asking people to stay alert," he said. "For the vast majority that means staying at home as much as possible."

Mr Starmer said the government had been giving conflicting guidance that did not answer the public's questions about going back to work.

"What the country needs at this time is clarity and reassurance, but at the moment both are in pretty short supply," he said.

Updated: May 12, 2020 03:36 AM

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