Increased risk of Covid transmission 'inevitable' as schools reopen, Boris Johnson says

8 March 2021, 17:23 | Updated: 9 March 2021, 08:03

By Patrick Grafton-Green

An increased risk of coronavirus transmission as schools reopen is “inevitable”, Boris Johnson has said, as millions of pupils return to classrooms in England for the first time in months.

Speaking at a Downing Street press conference amid the first easing of restrictions from the country's lockdown, the Prime Minister vowed to continue on the roadmap he set out last month.

He said thanks to the "huge national effort to keep kids at home", and with more than a third of the UK population having now received a vaccine, the spread of Covid-19 has been significantly reduced.

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"So, today we've been able to take that crucial first step on what we hope is our cautious but irreversible roadmap to freedom," he added.

But he said the school return "will of course have an impact on the spread of the virus", adding it is "more vital than ever" to follow the rules.

He warned the number of patients being admitted to hospital with Covid-19 each day is eight times higher than "the lows of last summer".

Dr Jenny Harries, England's deputy chief medical officer, said infections were now below 100 per 100,000 people in every part of the country - back to where they were in September - but added "a new wave could easily take off" and there was still "substantial strain" on the NHS.

However, she also played down suggestions schools may be forced to close again if new cases emerge, saying "we can be very optimistic going forward".

She said: "The testing programme in schools should mean that the likelihood of a case going into a school and then numbers of children having to come out of education to isolate should be very significantly reduced.

"There may be a very short period at the start of this programme where everybody gets used to it and a larger number of children come out of school and then it will settle down.

"It is really important when observing this that people think through the next three to four weeks, not the first one or two."

Mr Johnson praised parents and teachers as he said said the return to schools marked a "big day and an emotional day" for millions of families across England.

He said: "We all know that the education of our children is so important that the greater risk now is keeping them out of school for a day longer.

"I want to thank all the teachers who have got their schools ready and who have been teaching throughout the period - whether that is remotely or in person. Your work has been astonishing."

Mr Johnson also thanked parents who have been teaching their children at home and said: "We all know that the burden has disproportionately fallen on women - often holding down jobs and providing childcare at the same time."

He said the Government's job was to ensure pupils not only catch up on lost learning but "take the biggest possible step forwards with a concerted national programme for educational recovery".