Health Secretary Matt Hancock conceded that secondary schools in England may not fully reopen until later than September despite saying coronavirus is “in retreat” across the UK.
Boris Johnson will speak with his Cabinet on Tuesday morning before Education Secretary Gavin Williamson delivers a statement to Parliament on the wider reopening of schools.
Mr Hancock said at the Downing Street briefing that it was still “our current working plan” that secondary schools in England will not open until September “at the earliest”.
The Department of Education said it remained the “ambition” for all primary school children to return before the summer holidays, but did not deny reports Mr Williamson will accept this desire may not be fulfilled.
With the number of new deaths falling to the lowest reported since lockdown began, Mr Hancock said plans to further ease restrictions including the reopening of non-essential shops from Monday could go ahead.
“When you look across the board, it is clear that coronavirus is in retreat across the country,” he said, as deaths linked to Covid-19 reached nearly 51,000.
But with the phased reopening of England’s schools having begun last week, he acknowledged older pupils could still face months without attending class.
“That is our current working plan, is that secondary schools won’t open until September at the earliest,” he said.
Children in England began returning in a phased process last week, with Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 pupils heading back first.
Mr Hancock has also unveiled plans for pupils and teachers across England to receive coronavirus testing to monitor the spread of the disease as classes resume.
With approval from parents and guardians, children will be tested to see whether they have Covid-19 or have had an infection in the past under the surveillance programme.
Mr Hancock is aiming to have up to 100 schools tested across England by the end of the summer term, with around 200 staff and children involved at each of those schools.
– Mr Hancock insisted it was safe for people to send their loved ones into care homes, saying the epidemic in the sector was “coming under control”.
– He said David Pearson, former chief of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, will lead a new social care taskforce to tackle the infection rate in care homes.
– Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary warned millions of tourism jobs were in jeopardy as the 14-day quarantine for new arrivals to the UK was introduced.
– Modelling from Imperial College London said the lockdown prevented 470,000 deaths in the UK up to May 4.
– The Department of Health and Social Care said another 77 people had died after testing positive for coronavirus in the UK as of 5pm on Saturday, the lowest daily total since March 23, though figures are regularly lower at weekends.
But concerns remained that the Prime Minister was easing the lockdown too rapidly.
Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth warned many fear Mr Johnson “is starting to throw caution to the wind”, with worries that the economy is being crippled.
Mr Hancock said that the R rate of transmission for Covid-19 remains below the crucial level of one, above which it would spread rapidly again, in every region of the country.