Schools Close but Childcare to Remain for Health Workers

Peter Russell

March 18, 2020

Schools in England, Scotland, and Wales are to close on Friday to help stop the spread of COVID-19, the Prime Minister announced.

Schools in Northern Ireland will shut on Monday.

However, childcare would be available for the children of health professionals, social care staff, and other key workers, the Government said.

It would mean that schools could stay open with a skeleton staff to provide childcare for the children of these key workers.

Gavin Williamson, the Education Secretary, said: "Fighting coronavirus and protecting the vulnerable and our NHS are the Government's top priorities right now. That’s why we are asking schools, nurseries, and colleges to close – except for vulnerable children and the children of key workers."

Mr Williamson told the House of Commons on Wednesday: "I can confirm we will not go ahead with assessments or exams and that we will not be publishing performance tables for this academic year."

The Government had come under pressure to explain why schools were being encouraged to stay open, while Boris Johnson had urged people to avoid mixing in pubs, restaurants, and theatres.

At a daily news conference, Mr Johnson acknowledged there was an important trade-off between virus containment and school closures. He said that "we also need to keep the NHS going and to treat the number of rising cases. So we need health workers who are also parents to continue to go to work."

He added that "we therefore need schools to make provision for the children of these key workers who would otherwise be forced to stay home".

"And we need other critical workers with children to keep doing their jobs too – from police officers who are keeping us safe to the supermarket delivery drivers, social care workers who look after the elderly and who are so vital...

"Where schools are unable to look after these children, local authorities will work with the Department for Education’s regional teams to ensure an alternative option is available in the same area.

"Nurseries, private schools and sixth forms should also follow this guidance. We will provide financial support for these settings as required."

Nurseries would be eligible for a business rates holiday for one year, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has said.

Today's Other Developments

  • The number of deaths from COVID-19 in the UK reached 104 after a further 32 people died in England. Confirmed cases in the UK rose to 2626 on Wednesday, up from 1950 on Tuesday.

  • The British Medical Association (BMA) reiterated calls for healthcare staff to be provided with the protective equipment they need as well as priority access to COVID-19 testing. BMA Chair of Council Dr Chaand Nagpaul, said in a statement: "We are hearing of staff trying to buy masks from DIY stores in desperation because they are not being provided with it by their employers. This is totally unacceptable; healthcare workers should not, and do not, have to expose themselves to high risk situations without having adequate PPE."

  • The General Medical Council announced it would defer revalidation. Chief Executive Charlie Massey, said: "To free up vital time, revalidation dates between 17th March and the end of September will be deferred a year. We hope this will help ease the burden on doctors already working so hard to deliver the best possible care."

  • NHS England's digital wing, NHSX published advice on mobile messaging, video conferences, and using personal devices when doctors are working from home or under pressure. In guidance on information governance, NHSX said the Information Commissioner had given assurance that she cannot envisage a situation where she would take action against a healthcare professional clearly trying to deliver care. "In the current circumstances, it could be more harmful not to share health and care information than to share it," NHSX said.

  • Emergency laws to deal with COVID-19 are being laid before Parliament this week.

  • Public Health England advised against using COVID-19 rapid home test kits.

  • The General Pharmaceutical Council is preparing to re-register some former pharmacists if the Government declares a coronavirus emergency.

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