Schools to be closed in UK to protect the capacity of the NHS

By Daniel Male - Integrated Care Journal

Schools across the UK are to be closed from Friday to protect the capacity of NHS services to deal with coronavirus.

According to advisors, school closures are limited in their effectiveness in slowing the spread of the virus. Following a statement in the House of Commons from Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, Boris Johnson confirmed that schools in the UK will remain closed from Friday 20 March for most pupils “until further notice”.

Schools will remain open for the children of key workers and the most vulnerable members of society. The strict guidance from the government, which will go on to define “key workers” at a later date, is for the children of these groups to go to school as normal on Monday.

The Prime Minister emphasised the importance of healthcare workers and other public service workers continuing to work to support communities in the UK. Nurseries and private schools have also been asked to follow this procedure. Education secretary Gavin Williamson also announced that examinations will be cancelled in his address to Parliament.

The Prime Minister emphasised the importance that children are not left with elderly relatives when not at school. This is of utmost importance in mitigating the risk of young children infecting vulnerable people.

The government has asked schools to provide vouchers to children who would have otherwise received school meals.

Professor Patrick Vallance, the Chief Scientific Officer, provided an update on the SAGE programme. “We must not get to a position where NHS capacity is breached,” he said. The strategy is focused on keeping NHS capacity manageable.

While schools are not dangerous places and children are currently understood to be at the least at risk from coronavirus, the closure has been introduced as a means of further slowing the spread of the disease.

Jenney Harries, the Deputy Medical Officer also confirmed that “this is not a change in the scientific position” but it is crucial that we have healthy staff working in the health service.

A game changer?

Questions were asked about the antibodies test, a ‘game changer’ that is “progressing very fast” according to Professor Vallance, allowing us to understand the proportion of the population who have an asymptomatic form of the disease.

Professor Vallance reiterated the importance of monitoring the disease in order for policymakers to know when measures can be lifted and the risk profile for areas of the country. It is crucial that people, especially those working in essential services, know whether or not they have coronavirus.

The Prime Minister endorses the view of Professor Vallance but reiterated the point that “we are not there yet”.

Earlier today, it was announced that schools in Scotland and Wales are due to close from the end of the week. Schools in Northern Ireland will not be reopening as of today.

There is still no mention of support for those in private rented accommodation, although emergency legislation is currently being brought forward to prevent landlords evicting tenants for three months.

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