Government may take regional approach when reopening schools, medical chief says

England’s deputy chief medical officer Dr Jenny Harries has suggested that a regional approach may be taken when deciding how schools reopen.

When asked whether there could be a regional or phased system for reopening schools, Dr Harries said: “I think it’s likely that we will have some sort of regional separation of interventions.”

The deputy chief medical officer told MPs that we are starting to see “some glimmers of hope” in London, which was first affected by the new variant.

Education graphic
Education graphic

Addressing the Commons’ Education Select Committee, she said: “So I think on the broad epidemiology it is highly likely that when we come out of this national lockdown we will not have consistent patterns of infection in our communities across the country.

“And therefore, as we had prior to the national lockdown, it may well be possible that we need to have some differential application.”

But Dr Harries said schools would be top priority to ensure that the balance of education and wellbeing was “right at the forefront” of consideration.

Addressing the committee on the risk of transmission in schools, Dr Harries said: “Schoolchildren definitely can transmit infection in schools – they can transmit it in any environment – but it is not a significant driver as yet, as far as we can see, of large-scale community infections.”

Pupils in schools and colleges – except children of key workers and vulnerable pupils – have been told to learn remotely until mid-February amid the lockdown.

When asked whether schools will reopen after half-term, Dr Harries said: “It is a Department for Education policy date, but it seems a perfectly reasonable assumption in the sense of if you’re looking at the epidemiology you’re watching a wave of virus come across the country.

“We can see it’s hopefully starting to level off now in the original areas where the new variant rose and we have a national lockdown and we can start to see that those numbers are starting to be contained.

When asked whether it is likely there will be either phased or regional school reopenings, Dr Jenny Harries told our @CommonsEd: "I think it's highly likely we will have some sort of regional separation of interventions" 👇

— Robert Halfon MP -Working Hard for Harlow- (@halfon4harlowMP) January 19, 2021

“So you can get a sense of the timeframe in which those waves might come down and we could potentially open schools.

“What I can’t guarantee – that is, in this interval between now and February – (is) that there wouldn’t be another variant, or we may find some other epidemiological change.

“So I think these are very sensible time estimates but they need to be understood as not fixed dates and that would apply to anything in any department in relation to the pandemic.”