Health campaigners have sent an open letter to Thanet’s MPs urging them to change the plans for the opening of schools in early January.
The letter from Save Our NHS in Kent (SONIK) says: “At the very least locally, schools cannot proceed back next week as they are (if they are to open at all!).Smaller class sizes in larger and better ventilated areas need to be arranged.”
The letter also calls for churches, church halls and community centres to be used to avoid overcrowding and large class numbers, with distance and blended learning to be employed to cut down attendance.
Primary pupils and students in Years 11-13 are due to return to class on January 4. Before Christmas government announced secondary students would have staggered returns to school as covid testing takes place.
Secondary-age pupils are being prioritised for testing in response to the recent high rates of coronavirus (COVID-19) infection.
All schools with secondary-age pupils, including special schools and alternative provision, will be offered the opportunity to test students, from the week of January 4.
In these schools with secondary-age pupils, vulnerable children, the children of critical workers and pupils in exam year groups (primarily years 11 and 13) are expected to return to school on the advertised first day of term and should be prioritised for testing.
All other pupils must be provided with remote education until January 11 when they will resume face-to-face attendance. Pupils will not need to have had a test in order to return to school on January 11.
But now the new, more virulent strain of covid is raising fears of increased infections for both students and staff.
A SONIK spokesperson said: “The new Covid variant is 56% more transmissible than the previous virus. Deaths and hospitalisations are predicted to be higher than the first peak of the virus. And the current lockdowns are unlikely to get the transmission rate R below 1 — which is the critical rate.
“Schools are places with high risk of transmission of the virus. Our MPs must be aware of this and they must act to protect the people of Thanet.”
Last week scientific group SAGE met and expressed the need for tighter guidelines to reduce transmission risk within schools.
In the Independent newspaper they said: “Children and young people at school tend to have a wide transmission circle which can endanger parents and grandparents. Whilst wishing to minimise disruption to education, stricter guidelines are urgently needed for reducing opportunities for infection.”
North Thanet MP Sir Roger Gale has also contacted the Prime Minister’s office with his concerns about reopening of schools.
He said: “Teachers, school staff and parents need a clear and definitive statement that schools will not be required to reopen in January until effective vaccination is made available to teaching staff.
“Education is important but so are the lives and wellbeing of teachers and key working parents need time to plan for the care of their children.”
He asks the PM to make a statement in Parliament tomorrow (December 30).
South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay said schools need to remain open but staff should be prioritised for vaccination.
He said: “I appreciate concerns being raised about transmissibility of Covid within schools but there appears to be a continuing thread amongst those who air these fears – a desire to lock everything down, cease education and close the economy.
“I suspect a heavy dose of hard left politics at play by many of these new armchair specialists. The proposal by SONIK amplifies this with their call to deprive children of vital education for an unknown period until a wide rollout of vaccinations can be achieved. Additionally, with school closures comes the inability of many parents to work, putting more livelihoods at risk.
“I prefer to be honest with the public: even under a generous assessment of the logistics involved, widespread vaccinations will take some months to achieve governed by vaccine supply, the number of locations and trained vaccinators available.
“We must take precautions and manage risk in the interim just as all who work across healthcare, retail and deliveries have done throughout the pandemic to keep the country safe and provided for.
“Teachers are similarly doing essential work to ensure that the impact on education, a most precious resource, is not adversely impacted. I do however agree with many MP colleagues that teachers and school staff should be further prioritised in the earliest phase of vaccinations.”
The government is understood to have the reopening measures under review in light of the advice from SAGE. Reports today (December 29) also suggest ministers may decide schools in Tier 4 areas will remain shut until February.
Tomorrow also is the date government will review the covid tiers. Thanet, along with the rest of Kent, is currently under tier 4.
Government data published yesterday showed the rate of positive covid tests per 100,000 in Thanet is falling again but data may be incomplete due to the holiday period.
According to the government covid dashboard the Thanet figure is 565.8 per 100,000 for the seven days to December 23. This is the second lowest rate in Kent and Medway with only Tunbridge Wells having a lower number. However, the figure is still far above the national average of 378.6 per 100,000.
Common sense, logical requests and suggstions. Unlike the gov absolutely makes no sense plans.
Craig Mackinlay is a dangerous fool.
I 2nd this
Craig Mackinlay has shown himself to be a good MP who thinks for himself & has the courage of his convictions. He is standing up for his constituents & telling the truth, unlike the opposition. The Labour Party is a disgrace.
Good on Save Our NHS in Kent & glad that Sir Roger Gale has responded with positive action. Shameful that MacKinlay has scant regard for the seriousness of this pandemic which is now overtaking the 1st wave.
Mackinlay thinks there is ” a heavy dose of hard left politics at play by many of these new armchair specialists.”
What a cynic.
If his government hastened to the specialists (sitting in armchairs or not) we would without a shadow of a doubt be in a better place.
Instead, the government has been bludgeoned by the likes of Mackinlay and other back benches of playing a very dangerous game, balancing profit on the one hand with covid deaths on the other.
What value, in terms of GDP, do you put on a human life?
Craig MacKinlay states he cares about children’s education. He wants schools to open early January
He also wants Manston freight airport to re open
When is the next election ?
Which one of you thought you were voting for the dog and instead got Roger Gale?
As for Mackinlay, not even his party take much notice of him, so why should we?
Mackinlay’s lazy kneejerk response when challenged by constituents? Call people ‘hard left’ or similar. I remember when we in SONIK first started to raise the alarm about the closure of the stroke unit at QEQM. Craig called us ‘momentum thugs’. About six months later when he realised that the public were on our side, he panicked and backtracked and said he supported the call to keep the stroke unit at QEQM. We asked him to lobby the health sec and raise the matter in parliament, but he refused. He did try to get mileage out of our campaign to save the stroke unit though, using images of our placards in his general election literature, despite the fact that he has mostly maintained an abusive approach to SONIK and tends to dismiss our warnings – as seen above. It should also be noted that Craig’s friend and ex-Conservative councillor Paul Messenger has behaved in a similar way, accusing SONIK of being hysterical, uninformed and scaring old ladies at the outset of the stroke campaign – later he tried to pretend he had supported saving QEQM’s stroke unit all along. Then when Cllr Messenger had a chance to vote at KCC in a way that could have had a major impact on saving the unit, he voted the wrong way! His was the casting vote. Moral of the story? Beware local politicians making accusations against local campaigners – it may be their only way to distract from their own dodgy records!
I would look to your own organisation before criticising others.
‘The public’ are not all on your side, far from it. It is the hard left wingers like yourself who have destroyed the Labour Party both nationally & locally & made them unelectable.
I will be voting for Craig Mackinlay in the next election as I consider him an honourable man & a great MP for Thanet South.