Reopening schools 'too confusing and risky': Doctors back teachers unions over virus fears

An empty classroom at Manor Park School and Nursery in Knutsford, Cheshire, the day after Prime Minister Boris Johnson put the UK in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Teachers unions says they have been left with “unanswered questions” from the government over whether children and staff will be safe if schools reopen in England in June. (PA)

The UK's leading medical body has backed teaching union’s concerns over schools reopening, saying a "second spike" of coronavirus cannot be risked.

It comes amid concerns by some parents, teachers and unions over plans announced on Sunday evening to reopen schools next month.

Teaching unions says they have been left with “unanswered questions” from the government over whether children and staff will be safe if schools reopen in England, following a meeting between with chief scientific advisers on Friday.

Now the British Medical Association (BMA) has reinforced the unions’ concerns - saying government should not consider reopening schools on 1 June in England until COVID-19 case numbers are “much lower”.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 7: Members of the National Education Union (NEU) hold a socially distanced protest outside the Learning Trust in Hackney to demand that safety criteria demanded by their Trade Union is adhered to before schools reopen on May 7, 2020 in London, England. The UK is continuing with quarantine measures intended to curb the spread of Covid-19, but as the infection rate is falling government officials are discussing the terms under which it would ease the lockdown. (Photo by Guy Smallman/Getty Images)
Plans to reopen schools on 1 June have drawn concerns from teachers and unions. (Getty Images)

In a letter to National Education Union (NEU) joint secretary, Kevin Courtney, BMA chief executive Dr Chaand Nagpaul said the teaching body was "absolutely right to urge caution" over schools reopening.

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"In light of these studies...the view of the members of the PHMC is completely aligned with the NEU that, until we have got case numbers much lower, we should not consider reopening schools," the letter said.

"The NEU is absolutely right to urge caution, to prioritise testing and to protect the vulnerable. We cannot risk a second spike or take actions which would increase the spread of this virus, particularly as we see sustained rates of infection across the UK."

Dr Nagpaul added that the BMA fully supported the NEU's five tests of school safety to be met before pupils return.

"In response to the government's announcement this week on easing lockdown restrictions, I said that I believed their plan was too fast, too confusing and too risky. They would do well to heed your five tests before taking any further premature actions,” he continued.

Other scientists have urged caution of school re-openings.

Dr Catherine Carroll-Meehan, of the University of Portsmouth, warned how “some stark facts about the incidence of the virus and the number of recoveries should be published to allay fears”.

But in contrast, University of Southampton Professor Saul Faust backed the government’s plan, saying: “Society has to reopen, children need to return to school as there are negatives for many of having to stay at home and we need to be able study transmission dynamics in all ages to help us learn how to manage this virus.

“Slowly opening schools in a controlled way will be of low risk to children’s health and less risk to teachers than the risk to many other workers when on public transport/in other work environments.”

Earlier on Friday, Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis said he believes it is possible for children as young as four to socially distance in schools.

Meanwhile, Liverpool Mayor Joey Anderson defied government plans on Friday by saying schools will not reopen in the city next month.

Another teachers union, NASUWT, threatened legal action to defend teachers if they are forced back into classrooms in a letter sent to authorities, according to a report by The Guardian.

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