Schools facing mass closures as Covid erupts: Teachers given green light amid virus surge

Sajid Javid dodges question on school closures in Omicron battle

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Schools have been at the centre of countless restrictive measures over the past two years, with pupils suffering major disruption to their education thanks to decisions made by the Government and promoted by key unions. The emergence of the Omicron variant has reignited calls for measures that would further such disruption.

UNISON insists that schools should be allowed to close early “without the fear of Government criticism” to reduce the spread of the variant.

It has argued allowing schools to shut ahead of schedule in the run-up to the end of term would benefit both parents and teachers.

It said: “Allowing schools to close early this week would reduce the risk of Omicron transmission, make Christmas less stressful for families and give staff more time to get their boosters.”

UNISON claims to represent more education staff than any other UK trade union.

A spokesperson for the group told that while “we don’t want to see schools close,” new measures are needed to prevent further disruption.

It has called for the return of face masks in secondary school classrooms, as well as the return of “bubbles”.

The union is also pushing ministers to send air filtration devices to all schools before the New Year to help temper the spread of the virus when – or if – pupils return to the classroom.

UNISON’s Head of Education, Mike Short, said in a statement: “Stopping the virus in its tracks and keeping pupils and communities safe should be a top priority.

READ MORE: South Africa confident Omicron won’t cause too much disruption

“Action now will help cut family stress levels this Christmas.”

Mr Short added that, along with the other measures proposed by the union, the return to schools after Christmas should be staggered.

He said: “Bubbles must come back, and pupils shouldn’t all return at once on the same day in January.”

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This came as England’s Chief Medical Officer branded Omicron a “really serious threat”.

Chris Whitty told a press conference on Wednesday: “The how big a threat – there are several things we don’t know, but all the things that we do know are bad.”

Early data from the variant’s starting point, South Africa, however, indicate that the situation is far more positive than the ramping up of restrictions would suggest.

A study suggests the variant is causing fewer hospitalisations than the Delta strain, and the death rate is tumbling, dropping to one on December 5.

Despite Professor Whitty’s remarks, Boris Johnson insisted today, on Thursday, that “we’re not locking stuff down”, signalling that schools, for now, are safe.

The Department for Education has been approached for comment.

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