Government ministers are reportedly pushing for primary schools to re-open in May, despite fears it could lead to a second wave of coronavirus infections.
Some senior MPs want younger pupils back in the classroom in a month’s time, arguing lockdown cannot feasibly be lifted until workers’ children are back in full-time education.
The push to ease current restrictions comes after the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) predicted the UK economy could shrink by 35% if businesses are not allowed to re-open within three months.
One cabinet minister told The Telegraph the government ‘should be beginning to release things that can be released’, such as primary schools and non-essential shops.
‘We have got to make sure this economic downturn is V-shaped and not L-shaped’ the minister said, insisting the restrictions could be lifted safely if social distancing is put in place.
However, they said the elderly and most vulnerable, who have been told to isolate for three months, will likely have to stay in doors for six to fully protect themselves from Covid-19.
Downing Street is apparently drawing up plans for a slow removal of lockdown measures on a sector-by-sector basis.
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But one Conservative source told the Telegraph that Education Secretary Gavin Williamson was ‘flip-flopping’ on re-opening schools.
Meanwhile, school leaders are against any measures to allow children back in the classroom before the crisis passes.
The National Education Union has written to Westminster claiming it is ‘disturbed’ by any apparent plans to re-open schools.
A letter addressed to Boris Johnson said: ‘Given that in re-opening schools and colleges, you would be asking our members to take an increased risk, we believe they have a right to understand fully how any such proposal belongs within an overall Government strategy to defeat the virus.’
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who is deputising for the PM as he recovers from coronavirus, has not said when lockdown will end and is expected to extend it for three more weeks in the coming days.
On Tuesday, chancellor Rishi Sunak said the bleak forecast for the nation’s economy was no excuse to put people’s health at risk by lifting lockdown too soon.
He insisted the government’s plan ‘was the right plan’, adding that the economy was expected to ‘bounce back’ fairly quickly when things return to normal.
Schools were closed on March 23 and are not expected to re-open until September, with A-Levels and GCSEs being cancelled.
A Government spokesperson said schools will remain closed ‘until further notice’ except for vulnerable pupils and those who are children of key workers.
They added that schools would only open their doors when scientific advice indicated it is ‘safe to do so’ – while the government will ‘work closely’ with the education sector to come to any agreement.
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