Coronavirus second wave could affect school return in September, ministers warn

Ministers are on standby to impose quarantine measures on more countries amid fears that a second wave of coronavirus cases could undermine the reopening of schools in September.

Millions of pupils have been kept out of classrooms for a full six months, with many falling behind or suffering loneliness, and the Government is keen to see every school reopen its doors for the autumn term.

But a minister told the Evening Standard: “Getting children back into proper lessons is important for their wellbeing and for parents who want to get back to work. That could be pushed off course if the rises in Spain and other European countries is repeated here.”

In key developments:

  • Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said holidaymakers “need to be aware of the risk that quarantine could be imposed” while they are away. “Just bear in mind that this may happen, and sadly it has happened in Spain,” he said. Belgium, Luxembourg and Croatia have all seen higher infection rates that could risk restriction-free travel.
  • Heathrow boss John Holland-Kaye accused the Government of imposing “quarantine roulette” on travellers — as the airport announced a pre-tax loss of £1.1 billion in the first six months of the year. 
  • A £500 million government scheme was launched to help TV and movie studios to start filming again — but theatres were told they may not find out until the autumn whether they can reopen without the current social distancing measures.
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Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer was visiting Falmouth to call for the furlough scheme to be extended for tourism and other hard-hit sectors.

Boris Johnson said yesterday he was on alert for a “second wave” of Covid-19.

Downing Street sources denied the Prime Minister was specifically worried about schools but said the Government was studying the curve upwards in new cases around Europe and that it could indicate a similar rise in Britain in a month’s time, when schools will be preparing for the new term.

“We are watching what’s happening in Europe very closely because last time we were a few weeks behind, which would take you to something like late August, or early September,” said the source. “Hence why we have moved very quickly on Spain.”

The Department for Education has set out a detailed range of measures for schools to allow them to reopen without social distancing, including cleaning and hygiene programmes. However, there are tensions with unions.

The National Education Union this week called for teachers to have a right to wear a face mask, which the department does not think is necessary. Avis Gilmore, deputy general secretary of the NEU, said a second wave may not allow a full reopening of schools, adding: “Government needs a Plan B in the event that its guidance does not work or if cases are higher by the time we get to September. We have repeatedly urged for a Plan B to be put in place.”

In a round of media interviews this morning, Mr Dowden was asked which holiday destinations could be next. He replied: “Inevitably what we have to do is analyse the situation in countries around the world. Where we feel there is too high a degree of risk — where the incidence of the disease is rising in another country and we risk that import — we have to take measures.”

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Mr Holland-Kaye said the 14-day quarantine was a blunt instrument that was unfair to passengers and the industry.

The airport’s pre-tax loss in the first six months of 2020 compared with a £7 million profit a year before.

The Heathrow CEO called for a testing regime to be rolled out for passengers arriving at airports and then a week later, saying: “Without it, Britain is just playing a game of quarantine roulette.” However, the idea was rejected by Mr Dowden, who said there was “no viable alternative to the 14-day quarantine”.

The Culture Secretary also announced a scheme to underwrite risks for domestic film and TV productions who cannot get insurance against a second wave. But he was unable to give a commitment to theatres on ending social distancing.



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