All primary schools, secondary schools and colleges will move to remote learning from today after the prime minister Boris Johnson last night announced a national lockdown in a bid to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Education establishments will only remain open for the children of key workers – including social workers, NHS staff and teachers – and vulnerable children.
However, during the last national lockdown in March, the take up of school places among vulnerable children was low.
Early years settings such as nurseries, alternative provision and special schools will remain open and vulnerable children and children of critical workers can continue to use registered childcare, childminders and other childcare activities.
Extra support will be provided to ensure that pupils entitled to free school meals continue to receive them while schools are closed and more devices will be distributed to support remote education.
The government has stated that children are still very unlikely to be severely affected by COVID-19, but recognises that schools must be included in the restrictions in order to have the best chance of getting the virus under control as schools can act as vectors of transmission, causing the virus to spread between households when rates are high.
Prime minister Boris Johnson said: “With most of the country already under extreme measures, it is clear that we need to do more, together, to bring this new variant under control while our vaccines are rolled out.
“In England, we must therefore go into a national lockdown which is tough enough to contain this variant.
“That means the government is once again instructing you to stay at home,” he added.
The decision follows a rapid rise in infections, hospital admissions and case rates across the country, with hospitals under more pressure than they have been at any other point throughout the pandemic.
This drastic jump in cases has been attributed to the new variant of COVID-19, which scientists have now confirmed is between 50 and 70 per cent more transmissible. On 4 January, there were 26,626 Covid patients in hospital in England, an increase of over 30% in one week, and the April 2020 hospital admissions peak has now been surpassed by 40%.
The case rate in England up to 29 December was 478.5 per 100k, three times higher than on 1 December when the case rate was 151.3. On 3 Jan, 454 deaths were reported, with 4,228 over the last 7 days – a 24% increase on the previous 7 days.
The UK’s four UK Chief Medical Officers advised that the COVID threat level should move from level four to level five, which means that if action is not taken NHS capacity may be overwhelmed within 21 days.
In his address to the nation last night, the prime minister stated that people should only leave home for the following reasons:
- Shopping for basic necessities, for you or a vulnerable person.
- Going to work, or provide voluntary or charitable services, if you cannot reasonably do so from home.
- Exercising with your household (or support bubble) or one other person, once a day in your local area.
- Meeting your support bubble or childcare bubble where necessary, but only if you are legally permitted to form one.
- Seeking medical assistance or avoid injury, illness or risk of harm (including domestic abuse).
- Attending education or childcare - for those eligible.
The clinically extremely vulnerable should begin shielding again, the government advises.
The restrictions come into effect today and are expected to last until the middle of February if the situation in hospitals improve. The NHS hopes to have vaccinated everyone in the top four priority groups identified by the JCVI by that point including older care home residents and staff, everyone over 70, all frontline NHS and care staff and all those who are clinically extremely vulnerable.
Vaccinating the most vulnerable will protect those at highest risk from COVID-19 and this will remove a significant amount of the pressure currently facing the NHS.