Childcare Pledge for Healthcare and Medical Supply Chain Workers

Peter Russell

March 20, 2020

Most children across the UK were today in school for their final lessons for the foreseeable future in a continuing effort to contain COVID-19.

Schools in England, Scotland, and Wales close their doors today to all pupils except those who are most vulnerable and the children of key workers.

Schools in Northern Ireland will close on Monday.

A-levels, GCSEs, and other exams and tests have been cancelled this summer.

Children of Key Workers Could Still Go to School

Earlier, the Government published a list of 'key workers' whose children would still be eligible for schooling or childcare.

They included front-line health care workers and social care staff.

However, the list went much wider than doctors and nurses to include midwives, paramedics, social workers, care workers, and other frontline health and social care staff, including volunteers.

Also, those working as part of the health and social care supply chain, including producers and distributers of medicines and medical and personal protective equipment, were on the list.

However children who can stay away from school should do so, the Cabinet Office and Department for Education urged.

The Association of School and College Leaders warned that not every parent with a job on the list could expect that their child would be automatically entitled to a place.

Geoff Barton, the Association's general secretary, said: "The key worker list is extensive and schools will not be able to cope with the number of children who could potentially arrive on Monday morning.

"It is important that the public understands that this is not business as usual."

His view was reiterated by Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, who warned: "This is a very long list and could result in some schools having the majority of pupils attending. This will not achieve the goal of slowing the spread of the virus."

Is School Out for Summer?

The announcement of school closures affecting most pupils ahead of the Easter break came on Wednesday.

Although no decision has been taken, there is a widespread belief that schools are unlikely to open again normally until after the summer.

The Government and its scientific advisers had delayed a decision to close schools because of the disruption that would ensue and the evidence that children and young people were least likely to experience the most serious symptoms from contracting COVID-19.

However, in a briefing to the Science Media Centre yesterday, Prof Chris Whitty the chief medical adviser said: "I think it's important we don't give the impression that every single young and healthy person is just going to breeze through this."

He added: "We also need to be aware that this is not a trivial infection for everybody, even if they are a young adult", and that "what we absolutely shouldn't encourage is the idea that young people somehow can ignore it because they're going to be fine."

Scientific opinion on the merits of school closures remains divided.

Dr James Gill, from Warwick Medical School, said: "Whilst there have been very few cases of children being infected with COVID-19 we cannot rule them out as a potential carrier. The theory being that one child is exposed at home, comes to school asymptomatically results in other children carrying back to their families. The concern is that schools, as with any gathering of people may act as a sink and source of transmission. By requesting closure of schools this reduces a potential source of spread.

"By closing the schools, that will require people to be available to care for the children who are no longer in the schools. This will by extension further the current approach of social distancing by keeping more people at home, so we may see a delay in further enforced restrictions of movement as the school closure effect is evaluated."

Prof Stephen Reicher, Wardlaw professor of psychology at the University of St Andrews, commented: "The reason why school closures are such a tough call is that they raise the question of 'what happens to the children?'

"If they mix as much outside as inside school – and potentially in less regulated circumstances – then the decision could be counter-productive. So the key question is, how do you minimise contact once the schools are closed?"

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