Coronavirus UK: What next for schools as cases rise? – BBC News

the prime minister announces britain is moving to the next stage in the worst public health crisis for a generation so often the currents of this torrid year have flowed most choppily through schools tasked more than any other public service with trying to be normal when things are anything but into this chronology of woe has come a late effort to arrange mass testing in schools by the start of january news which drops into head's inboxes on the last day of term many heads are incredulous we have to get parental consent if um young people are going to have the testing so that's a logistical nightmare already if you look at school sites they're massive because of the zoning and the bubbles we've actually moved to three entrances so we're thinking where will that testing station go does it go with the year 12 entrance or with the year 7 entrance should it go in our amazing sports hall that actually takes away teaching space so that's another challenge so the logistics of trying to piece together where everything is going to go is mind-blowing i spoke to the department for education today he said that teachers won't have to actually be responsible for conducting the tests themselves right but then they're saying that they're saying that uh an army of volunteers will be able to do it and support staff how credible do you think that is i'm gonna say i think it's nonsense this disdain goes much wider than this corner of north london somehow this announcement managed to do what almost never happens it brought all the teachers unions and educational employers organizations together issuing a joint statement condemning the government's plans as unworkable and chaotic further anger came today when newsnight revealed that the department for education was offering 1 000 pounds for civil servants to work over the christmas period to help set the system up with no equivalent for heads or teachers but the backdrop and genesis of all this is as follows secondary school students have the highest infection rate of any age group ministers want this testing in place to bring that down and keep schools open others are now beginning to think that that might not be possible it's clear that secondary schools now are you know places where covert is caught and spread and we know that secondary pupils can transmit the virus very effectively uh into their families and into the community so um if the government doesn't get a grip and if we don't start reducing covered levels amongst this age group yes i think there's every possibility that will be in another lockdown and schools will be in that too but government says that's precisely why they want to bring in testing i would imagine well then we agree that the government should bring in testing absolutely but not like this one thing's for sure relations between school staff and the department for education never warm and now somewhere near sub-arctic dfe sources say that they're cognizant of what a huge problem staff absence has been what a huge problem pupil absence has been they're cognizant of the fact that there could be a spike in the early part of january and they have this new testing capacity so why not use it to ameliorate those problems and that is all laudable the problem is that it comes at the end of a year where the goodwill that would be required from within the teaching profession to get all of this new system up and running by the start of january has after this year all but evaporated for so many of us it's been a year to forget but we know in our bones we won't not least because we know its spirit endures that january bodes ill if its governments hope that mass school testing might make the coldest month more bearable might avert lockdown might keep the school lights on they may need to think again lewis good all that so what should we be anticipating in schools and elsewhere in january i'm joined by baroness louise casey former government advisor on social welfare and sir mark walpole the former chief scientific advisor to the government who sits on stage so mark let's start with you um tonight as we go on air there are reports that this mutant strain of kovid 19 that has been spreading in the south east that it's sufficiently strong that the government may be thinking about bringing forward restrictions rather more quickly what do you know about this strain what's so powerful about it is it so widespread that it might change the policy well i mean what we know is that there are two factors that determine the transmission of this disease one of these is the properties of the virus and the other is the way people behave and how they socially distance and so what happens with viruses that they do naturally mutate all the time and the ones that are likely to do well are the ones that increase transmission and so we know this is a new variant it has been seen in other countries but it seems to be quite widespread which suggests that it has got a transmission advantage and scientists are working extremely hard to work out what's going on basically there are three possibilities the first is that it does transmit more easily the second that it might give a different pattern of infection um and and and the third that it might become resistant to a vaccine now the latter two seem rather unlikely at the moment um but it does definitely seem possible that this transmits more easily and of course it will make the social distancing even more critical and and so how will it change january uh what we face in january if this is the case well you know the bottom line is that the situation is serious at the moment it's obvious that the infection numbers are very high indeed at the moment it's rising quite rapidly in london in the southeast in the east of england and unfortunately even in the parts of the country where the infection is coming under control the cases remain stubbornly high and so the nhs is under great pressure uh admissions are high and sadly admissions inevitably in a proportion of cases turn into deaths so we're going into january in quite a serious situation where we do need quite strong measures to socially distance and if the virus is uh changing then that makes it even more imperative and before we bring louise casey on this issue of uh schools testing how realistic is that as a strategy that's going to work well i mean it's firstly it's an enormous logistic challenge and if you like one of the really serious capacity issues is staff in the nhs and teachers in schools and we know that they're under immense pressure the second thing about the testing is that it's not a complete magic bullet so the sensitivity of the lateral flow test that's being used means that they only pick up somewhere between maybe 50 percent and maybe 65 of the people that are most infectious so it will miss cases but on the other hand it will discover cases that haven't been found by other means but it's not the complete answer okay louise casey so even if testing has its challenges is the answer to delay the return to school even further well i'm not an educational specialist but just listening to that um you know the bottom line is that we have to keep the schools open as best we can that we know that the um impact on particularly kids from disadvantaged backgrounds is really really profound so you know i'm up for testing and i'm up for testing from day one what i'm not up for is how late in the day this decision was made as um just being said but marcus just said the the huge logistical implications for schools not helped today tonight by the department of education uh offering a thousand pound bonus to civil servants that are prepared to work on the on the project over christmas but that same offer not being made to colleagues who who are in you know in the teaching profession so i think the government just wobbles all the time around making strategic decisions and seeing them through williams wants to bring in the army centralize the issue get it sorted yes well um i think somebody today said that it often feels a bit more like dad's army than it does about the army and i think i'll leave it at that well okay let's talk in your specialist area the social consequences of a possible third lockdown i mean it's been uh terrible for obviously for incomes for poverty what the consequences of a third lockdown well i mean the starting point here is this that pre the pandemic we had high numbers of people in poverty very high numbers of people now homeless um and people living in temporary accommodation families essentially locked up in single rooms with all of their family and if they're lucky in microwave like it wasn't great before the pandemic what the pandemic has done and particularly lockdown is it's just pushed what we already knew was a problem into a really really difficult and horrific place so we've got something like almost 400 000 redundancies additional redundancies between march and october we've almost doubled the number of people on universal credit the stretch between the house and the haves not is now way too stretched and so when you go into the new year i think what the government needs to think about is how do we get a reset particularly for families that are struggling um and they're vast numbers now it's like these are ordinary people you're working on the ground in uh trying to feed people essentially well yeah who thought that i would be having had a long career in public service i'm now uh working in food banks and helping people who are queueing for food in the in the united kingdom it's like one of the legacies from this pandemic cannot be that we quadruple the number of soup kitchens and food banks that would be a disgrace and i think what i'm trying to get across here is i met a woman who was coming out of a food bank i helped carrier shopping to her friend's car clearly she can't afford to get to and from the food bank her and her partner had both been furloughed they couldn't afford that 20 drop now she is on universal credit she waited two and a half months for that universal credit to come through uh she i can't tell you how how awful her life was and she literally uh has been surviving simply on that food bank i saw another woman walk in and was so so hungry and she was a very thin woman and she stuffed a cake directly into her mouth because she was that hungry the government would argue that they've extended the fellow scheme at 80 percent through till the end of april now it's more than a year of of those subsidies um good good they should they should but but other support packages for commercial firms so the issue here is that in the preceding decade to this pandemic the amount of cut austerity brought to public services and to individual incomes of people on welfare support literally have we're all in this storm right called this pandemic some of us are in yachts and some of us on rafts that are that are literally sinking we knew before the pandemic that if you live in a deprived area and you're a woman you'll have eight less years of your life than a woman who lives in a non-deprived area same statistics what the pandemic has done is pulled that even further and further apart let me just bring in sir mark so i mean obviously very costly in terms of the social infrastructure the idea of an extra lockdown i mean but you know neil ferguson your colleague or former colleague on stage says that a we have to be even tougher now than we were in november do you agree with that yeah well i mean the point is i think louise but of course the other issue is that it's that it's those socially deprived and disadvantaged people who are the most severely hit by coronavirus as well and so if you want to see an illustration of the social determinants of disease coronavirus is it and so uh it is a terrible situation but lisa's point is absolutely correct and of course the people that find it hardest under many circles do the social distancing are the people who are socially deprived because of the nature of work they do and the conditions in which they live

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