The coronavirus pandemic has lead to mass country lockdowns, the cancellation of public events, and the closing down of many bars and restaurants across the world.
But one thing that appears set to stay open for the foreseeable future are UK schools.
So far (of course, things are changing daily), Prime Minister Boris Johnson has confirmed that there are no immediate plans to shut schools down. However, some schools have had to take their own measures, closing due to staff or school-children testing positive for COVID-19.
But not everyone is entirely happy with the measures that are in place at the moment. Childcare.co.uk, the UK’s largest online childcare platform, surveyed their 2 million members recently, and found that 77% of parents said yes to the question, ‘Should the government close all schools for a period of time due to coronavirus?’.
However, the debate rages on, with some parents keen to isolate their children, while others admit to being concerned about childcare should their kids be off school for an extended period of time.
Some parents are even taking the situation into their own hands. The topic #Covid19Walkout has begun trending on social media, with the hashtag full of parents explaining why they’ve taken their kids out of school – for their health and for the rest of society’s.
One wrote, ‘Today my children will be helping to keeping the most vunerable safe. By staying home from school.’, while another said, ‘My mum home schooling my sister as she has asthma and we don’t want to take the risk #Covid19Walkout‘.
And parents aren’t the only ones expressing concerns. The World Health Organisation has also called into question the UK’s decision to keep schools open, with spokesperson Margaret Harris explaining on BBC Radio 4 that the country should be taking more action.
The UK is set to ban large gatherings this week – so should that include our schools?
Have other countries closed their schools?
At the moment, many countries in Europe have closed their primary and secondary schools in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Finland and the Netherlands are the only countries alongside the UK who have not.
In America, various states including Ohio and Michigan have closed schools, and, as some of the first countries to be affected by the virus, Japan and China have had schools closed since February.
And in Northern Ireland, schools are soon set to be shut for at least 16 weeks.
So why aren’t UK schools currently closed?
Last week, the government’s chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, explained the thinking behind keeping schools open. He told the public that the reason for delaying closures was twofold – explaining, “One reason to close schools is if it’s going to have a big impact on the [pandemic]. A second reason is if children are particularly affected by a virus or some other infection.”
Professor Chris went on to reveal that schools are staying open because, “based on early data”, children look to be less at risk of becoming infected with COVID-19 than adults. He said, “Our view is not that they don’t get infected – we think they probably do – but they seem to have a much milder disease in general.”
He also pointed to the huge effect closing schools will have on society, sharing that because of this, closing them is a measure that will not be taken lightly. He said, “So it has to be justified by very strong reasons, either for the protection of children, or for the impact on the epidemic.”
Of course, if children are off school for an extended period of time, it begins to raise the issue of who will be responsible for the care of children of working parents.
Should parents need to take time off work to look after their children, will they still get paid by their employers? And the same applies to school teachers. Like many others, it’s seems uncertain whether they would still be paid if they had no workplace to go to.
Many also believe that part of the UK’s plan in tackling the coronavirus is to build a degree of ‘herd immunity’. The idea is that many members of the public get the disease, but a mild version, in order to build up a large proportion of immunity – and keeping schools open may help with this plan.
When might UK schools be closed?
At present, there appears to be no plans for schools in the UK to close, despite the country being in the ‘delay’ stage of the disease now.
For now, the health secretary Matt Hancock said that the “goal was to keep schools open”.
In Parliament, he said, “If anyone has been in contact with a suspected case in a childcare or an educational setting, no special measures are required while test results are awaited. There is no need to close the school or send other students or staff home.”
It means that individual schools could be facing closures, but only if they have been directly affected by the virus.
So what do you think? Do you want schools to close? Or are you glad they haven’t yet?