Plans for a staggered opening of schools after the Christmas break are still going ahead but under review, Downing Street has said.
Rising cases have triggered calls for the government to delay pupils’ return to the classroom, with one expert fearing a coronavirus “catastrophe” if tighter restrictions aren’t implemented.
However, a Downing Street spokesman told a briefing on Tuesday: “We’re still planning for a staggered opening of schools and we are working to ensure testing is in place.
“As we have said throughout the pandemic, we obviously keep all measures under constant review.”
The joint general secretaries of the National Education Union, Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney, have written to Boris Johnson and education secretary Gavin Williamson calling for schools to stay shut in the first two weeks of January.
It called for remote learning except for vulnerable children and key workers’ children in places under the highest tiers of restrictions.
Dr Patrick Roach, general secretary of the teaching union NASUWT, also wrote to Williamson demanding more action on school safety.
Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove told BBC Radio 4 the government thinks primary schools pupils and students in Year 11 and Year 13 can return in the first week of the month.
Earlier on Tuesday, Professor Andrew Hayward, who sits on the government advisory group Nervtag, told Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think we are entering a very dangerous new phase of the pandemic and we’re going to need decisive, early, national action to prevent a catastrophe in January and February.”
He said the rise in cases – 41,000 new infections were reported on Monday – is being driven “very largely” by the recently-identified coronavirus variant.
“A 50% increase in transmissibility means that the previous levels of restrictions that worked before won’t work now, and so Tier 4 restrictions are likely to be necessary or even higher than that,” he said.
The expert also warned that when term time resumes “we’re going to have to have increased, strict restrictions in other areas of society to pay for that”.
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