A Tory minister has declared schools are safe, before adding in the same breath that they are “vectors” for a new strain of coronavirus.
Nadhim Zahawi made the bizarre claim today after Boris Johnson U-turned and shut schools at a few hours’ notice following two weeks of dithering.
While children are far less likely than adults to become seriously ill with Covid-19, schools were shut because pupils can spread the virus to others in the community.
SAGE warned on December 22 that schools would have to close to have any hope of bringing the R number below 1.
But Boris Johnson pushed ahead with the opening of most primary schools in England – then U-turned and shutting them all after one day of class.
Vaccines Minister Mr Zahawi attempted to explain that U-turn in an interview with BBC Breakfast.
He said schools had moved to online learning “because the schools are safe, but they can act as vectors for this new variant which is much more transmissible in community settings.
“So that is the decision that was made.”
Speaking again to BBC Radio 4 he went further, saying: “Schools are a vector for that spread.”
Mr Zahawi’s comments echo those of Boris Johnson on Sunday.
The Prime Minister said at the time: “The schools are safe – the issue is how can you stop schools being places where the virus can circulate and then spread into all the other households?”
SAGE evidence has previously said virus rates in children increased after schools went back but they were unable to say exactly why.
It is difficult for scientists to distinguish between Covid-19 spread in a classroom, compared to during other activities that happen around school.
The regulations enforcing England’s national lockdown came into effect at 12.01am today as new figures suggested one in 50 people had coronavirus last week.
Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggested 1.1 million people in private households in England had Covid-19 between December 27 and January 2.
The number of daily confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK topped 60,000 for the first time, while a further 830 people died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Tuesday.
The latest data from NHS England showed there were 26,467 Covid-19 patients in hospital as of 8am on January 5 – a week-on-week increase of 21%.
The Government wants England’s schools to reopen after the February half-term.
But experts warned that would depend on progress in the battle to curb Covid-19 cases.
Boris Johnson refused to guarantee all pupils will be back in classrooms by the summer. He said: “I am full of the same optimism and fundamental hope about the position that I think Chris (Whitty) has adopted and I really think that things will be very different in the spring.
“That is what I would certainly say to every parent in the land.”
England’s Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty sought to reassure the public that there was no evidence of increased hospitalisation among children due to the new variant.
He said: “One thing that we do not think is that this new variant is any more dangerous for children than the old variant is.
“There’s no evidence, for example, that the hospitals are filling up with children.”