The UK has seen another record daily rise in coronavirus cases, with 57,725 cases reported on Saturday, amid a row over the planned reopening of primary schools in England on Monday.
Education secretary Gavin Williamson is facing intense pressure to delay the reopening of all schools in England after a series of unions called for an immediate switch to remote learning next week to protect staff and slow the spread of Covid-19.
It came after a union chief accused ministers of having a “reckless” attitude towards schools during the pandemic following the announcement of a U-turn on the opening of schools in London.
The National Education Union‘s joint general secretary Dr Mary Bousted said the government had led England’s schools into “chaos” over plans to get children back into classrooms in January despite surging cases.
“I find the government’s recklessness in this regard, both with educational professionals’ health, but also with community health, and the questions increasingly around children’s health, inexplicable,” Dr Bousted said.
Brighton council advises schools to stay closed
Brighton and Hove City Council has advised primary schools to delay reopening until 18 January because of increased rates of Covid-19.
The council has written to Gavin Williamson asking to be included in the schools allowed to remain online-only. It comes after the education secretary bowed to pressure to keep all London primary schools closed for the start of the new term.
Councillor Hannah Clare, chair of the Children, Young People & Skills Committee, said that the rate of new cases had increased by more than 500 per cent since the end of the second national lockdown to 388 per 100,000 people.
She added: “The early indications are that this sharp increase is continuing and we will approach rates of approximately 500 per 100,000 in the next few days. This rapid increase is mirrored in the rates in our children and young people.
“We therefore must do this to protect our NHS from being overwhelmed and ensure that our city’s children, school staff and the wider community are kept as safe as possible.
“We know that there will be sacrifices that have to be made as a result of this and that many families will now face challenges in finding the right childcare on a short time frame. We are sorry this is the case.
“The government has left us to make this decision that it is not brave enough to face and we hope to see a change of heart from them for primary schools across the South East. Until then, we will work with our city’s primary schools to ensure they are supported in providing remote learning, while remaining open to the children of key workers, and vulnerable children.”
Peter Stubley2 January 2021 17:51
Hospital wards ‘not full of children with Covid’, say paediatricians
Doctors have hit back at claims that increasing numbers of children were being admitted to hospital with Covid, describing the reports as “irresponsible”.
A matron at a London hospital told BBC Radio 5 Live that she and her colleagues had “whole wards of children” with the virus, in contrast to the first wave in March.
However the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health issued a statement said that there was no sign that children and young people were being affected more severely.
The RCPCH said: “Children’s wards are usually busy in winter. As of now we are not seeing significant pressure from Covid-19 in paediatrics across the UK. As cases in the community rise there will be a small increase in the number of children we see with Covid-19, but the overwhelming majority of children and young people have no symptoms or very mild illness only. The new variant appears to affect all ages and, as yet, we are not seeing any greater severity amongst children and young people.”
Dr Ronny Cheung, a consultant paediatrician at Evelina Children’s Hospital, London, described the original claim as “garbage” on Twitter.
He added: “I’ve been the on-call consultant in a London children’s hospital this week. Covid is rife in hospitals, but not among children – and that is corroborated by my colleagues across London.”
And Dr Damian Roland, consultant paediatrician at University Hospitals of Leicester, said: “I think it’s important all in child health make absolutely clear we are not seeing a nationwide wave of Covid-19 induced illness in children.”
Dr Liz Whittaker, consultant paediatrician at St Mary’s Hospital London, added: “There are lots of children with Covid positive tests, but thankfully only small numbers with severe disease or PIMS (the rare inflammatory disease associated with Covid), and these are within expected levels – given the London rates. I continue to worry for my elders, not my kids.”
Peter Stubley2 January 2021 17:39
17 arrested at Hyde Park anti-lockdown protest
Seventeen people were arrested at an anti-lockdown protest in London’s Hyde Park this afternoon.
Up to 300 people attended the event at Speakers Corner from 1.30pm but officers said most had left by 4.45pm.
One of those present was Piers Corbyn, who has been repeatedly arrested for staging similar gatherings in breach of coronavirus regulations.
Peter Stubley2 January 2021 17:23
ASCL joins calls for switch to remote learning
Another professional body representing teachers has backed calls for schools to remain closed until at least 18 January.
The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) said face-to-face teaching to be restricted to only vulnerable children and those of key workers during what it calls a “short period of remote education”.
Geoff Barton, the association’s general secretary, said: “It is very clear that the government’s plans for the start of the spring term are untenable.
“The arrangements it has announced are hopelessly confused and we have seen no scientific rationale for them.
“Many school and college leaders have no confidence in the government’s approach, and we are very concerned about the safety of families, staff, and the wider community.
“We are calling for a short period of remote education in order to protect all concerned and allow time for the government to work with the profession on a joint plan for safe opening.
“We fully support keeping education functioning as fully as possible during the Covid crisis but this has to be done safely, or the long-term consequences and disruption will be much worse.”
Peter Stubley2 January 2021 17:16
Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has backed the National Education Union’s call for all schools to move immediately to online learning from Monday.
Will current leader Sir Keir Starmer follow him later today?
Conrad Duncan2 January 2021 16:59
Hospitals begin receiving doses of Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine
Batches of the newly-approved Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine have started arriving at hospitals ahead of the jab’s rollout next week.
Some 530,000 doses of the vaccine will be available across the UK from Monday, with vulnerable groups already identified as the priority for immunisation.
You can find more on this story below:
Conrad Duncan2 January 2021 16:50
Arrests made at anti-lockdown protest in central London
Arrests have been made at an anti-lockdown demonstration in central London which saw crowds of between 200 to 300 people gathering in Hyde Park, police have said.
The Metropolitan Police said most people left the scene on Saturday afternoon without incident but 11 were arrested for breaching Covid-19 regulations.
“Officers continue to engage with groups of people who have gathered in the Hyde Park area,” the force wrote on Twitter.
“A number of people have been arrested under health protection regulations and taken into custody.
“We urge those in the area to leave immediately.”
Under Tier 4 restrictions, more than two people are generally not allowed to gather in public.
Conrad Duncan2 January 2021 16:36
Unison joins calls for all schools in England to delay reopening
Public sector union Unison has joined calls for all schools in England to delay reopening for two weeks, arguing that teaching and support staff should not have to work in unsafe conditions.
“The government must act decisively now by delaying the start of term for all schools by two weeks because of spiralling infection rates,” Unison head of education Jon Richards said.
“Education should move online except for vulnerable children and those of key workers.”
Mr Richards added: “Ministers have had weeks to get this right instead of leaving parents, staff and whole communities confused.
“The union is clear that members who work in schools have a right to a safe working environment. They shouldn’t have to work where they face serious and imminent danger.”
Conrad Duncan2 January 2021 16:19
Williamson under growing pressure to keep all schools in England closed
Education secretary Gavin Williamson is coming under intensifying pressure to delay the reopening of all schools in England after a series of unions issued statements calling for an immediate switch to remote learning next week.
The National Education Union said it would inform its members of their legal right to not return to classrooms in “unsafe conditions” due to rising Covid-19 infection rates.
Our political correspondent, Ashley Cowburn, has the full story below:
Conrad Duncan2 January 2021 16:09
Our reporter, Peter Stubley, has more details below on the new record Covid daily case figures:
Conrad Duncan2 January 2021 15:54