Coronavirus Pandemic: When Will U.K. Schools Open Again?

Experts are questioning whether schools should remain closed as the peak of the U.K. novel coronavirus pandemic is reached.

Research led by University College London (UCL) found that "school closure, as an isolated measure, was predicted to reduce total deaths by only around 2-4 percent during a COVID-19 outbreak in the UK."

Initially, it was expected that schools were unlikely to reopen before the summer holidays in July.

But this has led to Cabinet ministers to argue that schools should be opened as soon after the Easter holidays as possible.

"We need to be led by the science, of course," an unnamed minister reportedly told The Times of London.

"But if we can reopen schools after the Easter holidays things could begin to get back to normal. It could kickstart the economy."

The UCL study argued that social distancing measures in schools would make a return possible.

Some teachers have said that this sort of distancing would be "impossible" in reality, and official responses mean it is very unlikely for schools to open soon.

"Schools will remain closed until further notice, except for children of critical workers and the children who are most vulnerable," a Department For Education spokesperson told Newsweek.

"We will re-open schools when the scientific advice indicates it is safe to do so."

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who is effectively acting as prime minister with Boris Johnson remaining in intensive care, has yet to comment on the issue.

With education being a devolved issue, different policies are in place in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Welsh Education Minister Kirsty Williams has said that schools might not reopen until September.

There is no official guidance in Scotland but First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said that "at this stage, [she] cannot promise that they will reopen before the summer holidays."

Schools in Northern Ireland are "closed until further notice."

What are other countries doing?

On Monday, Denmark announced that primary schools and kindergartens would reopen, the first country in Europe to do so, and that it was the first step in returning to normal.

"We are presenting a first, careful phase in the reopening of Denmark," Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen told a press conference.

"It assumes we are responsible and the numbers [suffering symptoms of COVID-19] are stable, not just this week but for a long time to come. If we see over Easter that it is increasing, we won't reopen."

Students in Guizhou province, southwest China, had already returned to school before the U.K. went into full lockdown.

What does the evidence say? Is it safe for children to go back to school?

Children of key workers attend school
While the children of key workers continue to go to school, all U.K. schools are closed for others until further notice. Getty

Over 100 countries have closed schools in response to COVID-19. This was based on medical advice and studies on previous pandemics.

"We know from previous studies that school closures are likely to have the greatest effect if the virus has low transmissibility and attack rates are higher in children. This is the opposite of COVID-19," research leader Professor Russell Viner, of University College London Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health, said on the research's release.

"Data on the benefit of school closures in the COVID-19 outbreak is limited but what we know shows that their impact is likely to be only small compared to other infection control measures such as case isolation and is only effective when other social isolating measures are adhered to.

"Additionally, the costs of national school closures are high—children's education is damaged and their mental health may suffer, family finances are affected, keyworkers may need to stay home to look after children and vulnerable children may suffer most.

"With nearly 90% of the world's students (more than a billion and a half of young people) out of school, more data and robust modeling studies are urgently needed to help us identify how countries can, in time, safely return students to education."

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Advice on Using Face Coverings to Slow Spread of COVID-19

  • CDC recommends wearing a cloth face covering in public where social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.
  • A simple cloth face covering can help slow the spread of the virus by those infected and by those who do not exhibit symptoms.
  • Cloth face coverings can be fashioned from household items. Guides are offered by the CDC. (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/diy-cloth-face-coverings.html)
  • Cloth face coverings should be washed regularly. A washing machine will suffice.
  • Practice safe removal of face coverings by not touching eyes, nose, and mouth, and wash hands immediately after removing the covering.

World Health Organization advice for avoiding spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19)

Hygiene advice

  • Clean hands frequently with soap and water, or alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Wash hands after coughing or sneezing; when caring for the sick; before, during and after food preparation; before eating; after using the toilet; when hands are visibly dirty; and after handling animals or waste.
  • Maintain at least 1 meter (3 feet) distance from anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
  • Avoid touching your hands, nose and mouth. Do not spit in public.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or bent elbow when coughing or sneezing. Discard the tissue immediately and clean your hands.

Medical advice

  • Avoid close contact with others if you have any symptoms.
  • Stay at home if you feel unwell, even with mild symptoms such as headache and runny nose, to avoid potential spread of the disease to medical facilities and other people.
  • If you develop serious symptoms (fever, cough, difficulty breathing) seek medical care early and contact local health authorities in advance.
  • Note any recent contact with others and travel details to provide to authorities who can trace and prevent spread of the disease.
  • Stay up to date on COVID-19 developments issued by health authorities and follow their guidance.

Mask and glove usage

  • Healthy individuals only need to wear a mask if taking care of a sick person.
  • Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing.
  • Masks are effective when used in combination with frequent hand cleaning.
  • Do not touch the mask while wearing it. Clean hands if you touch the mask.
  • Learn how to properly put on, remove and dispose of masks. Clean hands after disposing of the mask.
  • Do not reuse single-use masks.
  • Regularly washing bare hands is more effective against catching COVID-19 than wearing rubber gloves.
  • The COVID-19 virus can still be picked up on rubber gloves and transmitted by touching your face.
Coronavirus Pandemic: When Will U.K. Schools Open Again? | World