COVID-19: Fears new variant could prevent schools returning in January

·2-min read

One of the biggest potential casualties of the new variant of COVID-19 may be the possibility of a normal return to school in England in January.

Scientists are currently studying the evidence that children might be more affected.

It could mean a return to home schooling for thousands of children.

Secondary schools across England are already staggering their start of term, to allow a testing programme to get under way.

Recent figures show there's been a sharp rise in cases of COVID among school-aged children.

This might be driven by the new variant of the virus, which could spread more easily in young people.

The fear is this leads to more transmission within the school environment, which ends up being passed on to families.

Professor Mark Harris, a virologist at Leeds University, said: "There is a concern that if this really is replicating or growing better in children, then it could have a knock-on effect for the spread of the virus throughout the entire population of the UK."

Children are highly unlikely to suffer any severe symptoms if they become infected, and there's no evidence to suggest the new variant will change this.

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But if more children become infected, this could quickly increase transmission.

Further research and more definitive data is needed before scientists can confirm what's happening with the new variant.

The government is committed to keeping schools open, but is also dealing with a rapidly-spreading virus, which continues to put huge pressure on the NHS.

Meanwhile, headteachers are waiting to find out if they can fully reopen in January.

Many feel with rising cases, this will be hard in some areas.

Steve Edmonds - director of advice and guidance at the National Governance Association, the body representing school governors - feels despite huge efforts by headteachers to stay open and continue education, it is a "challenge" in areas with rising cases.

"We need to be prepared for a scenario where it's not possible for schools to open on 4 or 11 January," he said.

The news won't be what many families want to hear.

Hannah Thompson, a mum from Stroud, said: "I really think that continuing children's education has to be the most important thing.

"We've already seen a huge disruption to learning and our ability to work as parents with children off school, it's just hugely impactful for their education and for their mental health - and the ability of adults to contribute to society."