Coronavirus cases are rapidly rising amongst secondary pupils, and the National Education Union (NEU) are calling on the government to impose an urgent circuit breaker to suppress cases.
The union are insisting that all schools and colleges should be closed for two weeks at half term in October for secondary and post-16 students.
Sir John Bell, regius professor of medicine at Oxford University gave a grim warning, he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, “Things look grave at the moment and the numbers are going up pretty rapidly.”
He added, “I think the other phenomena you’re seeing is people are pretty unhappy. They’re tired, this has been going on too long, they can’t go about their business. They can’t do the normal things that they would expect to do.
“Hospital staff are exhausted from the last go so I think we’re in real trouble because as that happens compliance and willingness to fix this problem starts to dissipate.
“Having said that, I see very little way of getting on top of this without some kind of circuit-breaker because the numbers are eye-watering in some parts of the country.
“I think it’s going to be very hard to get on top of this just by biting around the edges.”
Presenter Martha Kearney asked him, “When you say circuit-breaker, do you think you can do it by keeping schools open?”
Sir John said, “I think there will be every effort to keep schools open but just to paint the picture, there are universities in this country who have up to 70 percent of their kids in quarantine.
“I mean, oh my god! What kind of a university is that? This is not a good place to be.
“If in the end, we have to take kids out for two weeks and calm it all down then that’s what we may have to do.”
Joint General Secretary of the NEU Kevin Courtney said, “The latest infection survey report from the ONS [16 October] shows infection rates rising sharply amongst secondary age pupils – much more sharply than in any section of the population apart from university students.
“This should be no surprise to either the prime minister or the Department for Education – scientists have consistency told them that secondary students transmit the virus as much as adults, and we have warned them that because we have amongst the biggest class sizes in Europe we have overcrowded classrooms and corridors without effective social distancing.”
He added, “Our classrooms often have poor ventilation leading to airborne transmissions, and in many areas, we have also have overcrowded school transport where children are mixing across year group bubbles.
“These children live in families and are part of communities, so even if they have few or no symptoms themselves, they are still part of spreading the virus to others, including to teachers and other school staff.
“Such a circuit breaker could allow the government to get in control of the test, track and trace system, and get cases lower to allow the system to work better.”