Greenwich schools to close from Monday amid soaring Covid cases

13 December 2020, 18:13 | Updated: 13 December 2020, 20:03

File photo: Schools in the Royal Borough of Greenwich will close from Monday
File photo: Schools in the Royal Borough of Greenwich will close from Monday. Picture: PA

By Megan White

Schools in the London Borough of Greenwich will close from Monday after the council was warned of an "exponential growth" in coronavirus cases which "demands immediate action."

The latest data shows there were 715 new coronavirus cases recorded in the south east London borough in the seven days to December 9 - the equivalent of 248.3 cases per 100,000 people.

This is up from a rate of 158.0 in the seven days to December 2.

Read more: Streets of central London packed with thousands of Christmas shoppers amid Tier 3 warnings

Council leader Cllr Danny Thorpe said in a statement that Public Health England had advised the council to shut schools as the situation in relation to Covid was "escalating extremely quickly."

They will now close on Monday, instead of Thursday, which would have been the last day before the Christmas holidays.

Cllr Thorpe's comments came amid fears that London would be plunged into Tier 3 after the lockdown Tiers are reviewed on Wednesday.

Cllr Thorpe said: "I’m writing this open letter to let you know the situation in Greenwich in relation to Covid-19 is now escalating extremely quickly and I have today been briefed by colleagues from Public Health England that the pandemic in Greenwich is now showing signs that we are in a period of exponential growth that demands immediate action.

"We now have the highest rates of infection in Greenwich than at any time since March, and for these reasons I have therefore asked all schools in Greenwich to close their premises from Monday evening and move to online learning for the duration of the term, with the exception of key worker children and those with specific needs (exactly the same as in the first lockdown)."

He continued: "It is absolutely essential that everyone understands this is NOT an opportunity to extend Christmas celebrations in any way, and I'm asking for this to happen to reduce the risk of transmission."

Cllr Thorpe apologised for the disruption school closures were likely to cause, adding: "I wouldn't be asking for this unless the risk was extreme, but with numbers rising so rapidly it is clear action is needed.

"This is honestly one of the most difficult questions I have wrestled with during all my time as leader.

"The DFE (Department for Education) are clear this isn't their position and indeed have issued directives to some schools. However, I cannot in all good conscience stand by whilst the numbers are doubling so quickly."

The latest data from the Office for National Statistics indicates the proportion of people testing positive for Covid-19 is estimated to have increased in London and possibly in eastern England, but decreased in all other regions.

Mayor Sadiq Khan appealed directly to Londoners to keep a two-metre distance where possible and to wear masks, as he said it was "vital" to work together to tackle rising coronavirus cases in the city.

But pictures of huge crowds on Oxford St and Regent Street on Saturday appear to show a lack of social distancing and large numbers of people not wearing face coverings.

Regent Street, which had been temporarily pedestrianised to aid with social distancing, was packed with thousands of shoppers. Surrounding streets including Carnaby St were also packed with people queuing outside shops.

In a joint statement, Mr Khan and Cllr Rachael Robathan, leader of Westminster City Council, said a "key" part of helping businesses recover from the crisis was "ensuring we get this deadly virus under control".

"With cases rising in many parts of the capital, it is vital that we all work together to control its spread," the statement said.

"Otherwise we may face tougher restrictions, which would greatly harm shops in the West End, our hospitality sector and the whole of London's economy.

"We are appealing directly to Londoners - when out shopping it is essential that you follow the rules."

They also advised avoiding travelling on public transport during rush hour and told people to walk and cycle "where you can".

"If you have symptoms - don't take a chance and don't go out. Self-isolate immediately and get a test," they added.