Coronavirus latest news: Children should not be excluded for failing to wear masks, says minister, as schools reopen
“Nobody should be denied an education if they don’t wear a mask,” minister for children Vicky Ford has said as schools return in England today in the first step of lockdown easing.
As pupils across the country return to school for the first time in at least two months, the question of whether masks should be compulsory for pupils is still contested among experts and ministers.
Ms Ford told Sky News: “The vast majority of teenagers…they want to do everything they can to protect themselves from the virus…and they understand that the masks that have been recommended by the medical officers are a way to help to do that.”
She added: “But some are exempt from wearing masks, some may be very anxious about wearing masks, but I really would encourage them to do so.”
When asked why she has not made mask-wearing compulsory in schools, Ms Ford replied that she has followed “the medical advice we had,” which was just to “strongly encourage them.”
Ms Ford added that the mask policy in schools will be reviewed at Easter.
Sage member, Professor Calum Semple, said schools were “absolutely” safe for children and it was safe for schools to go back.
Prime Minister pays tribute to the women leading the UK’s vaccination programme
Boris Johnson used International Women’s Day to pay tribute to some of those involved in the fight against coronavirus.
The Prime Minister praised the work of Professor Sarah Gilbert, who helped develop the AstraZeneca vaccine, former vaccines taskforce head Kate Bingham, medical regulator boss Dr June Raine, and NHS England’s Dr Emily Lawson and Dr Nikki Kanani.
“This International Women’s Day I want to pay tribute to some of the leading figures in the UK’s vaccination programme,” he said.
“Their ingenuity, dedication and hard work is an inspiration to all of us.”
Don’t ‘relax’ and start mixing because schools are reopening, says doctor
A leading children’s doctor has warned that schools can only open safely if everything else “stays locked down” for at least three weeks.
Professor Russell Viner, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, told Times Radio: “Sage has concluded that reopening schools adds probably about 0.2 or thereabouts to the R number.
“We know that reopening schools will increase transmission, but we should be able to keep the R below one – and, as you’ll recall, that’s the key thing to stop the runaway increase of infections.
“And I think the key thing is that children themselves, and parents, don’t think ‘The schools are open, we can relax, we can mix outside of school’ – in a sense, come out of lockdown around the school opening.
“The modelling – and I think the Government has been clear on this – is about we can reopen schools safely if everything else stays locked down over the next three weeks.”
South Korea finds no link found between deaths and AstraZeneca vaccine
South Korea said on Monday it had found no link between the AstraZeneca vaccine and several recent deaths.
Health officials had been investigating the deaths of eight people with underlying conditions who had adverse reactions after receiving AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine, but said they found no evidence that the shots played a role.
“We’ve tentatively concluded that it was difficult to establish any link between their adverse reaction after being vaccinated, and their deaths,” Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) Director Jeong Eun-kyeong told a briefing.
South Koreans aged 65 or older were not being given AstraZeneca’s vaccine after health regulators concluded that more data was needed to confirm its efficacy among that age group.
But on Monday, Jeong said an expert panel had now recommended that the shot be given to older people, and that the KDCA would soon make a final decision.
The test packs come with simple instructions which should be followed step by step.
The test involves taking a swab of the throat and nose, dipping the swab in a solution and then placing two drops on to a piece of kit that looks somewhat similar to a home pregnancy test. The result shows up within half an hour.
What do I do with my result?
People who take the tests are being asked to report the result to NHS Test and Trace on the same day they take it, either by inputting their results online – gov.uk/report-covid19-result – or by calling 119.
What do I do if I test positive?
People with a positive result should self-isolate immediately, get a PCR test to confirm the result and follow the stay-at-home guidance. Pupils, students and staff should also tell their school or college if they test positive.
How do I get my test?
Teachers and staff will get kits provided by their school, as will secondary pupils and college students.
Pupils will return to schools and loved ones will be able to visit care home residents in person as part of the first phase of lockdown easing in England.
As well as pupils returning to classrooms today for the first time in at least two months, the rules around meeting with a person from another household outdoors will be loosened to permit recreation and not just exercise.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said there were dangers involved in keeping classrooms shut for too long when asked about the risks of schools returning.
He said on Sunday: “I think the risk is actually in not going back to school tomorrow given all the suffering, all the loss of learning we have seen.
“I do think we are ready, I think people want to go back, they feel it, they feel the need for it.”
His comments came as new research suggests children’s mental health was negatively affected by school closures last year.
Experts say they found a “significant rise in emotional and behavioural difficulties” among primary school pupils after the spring and summer school closures in 2020.
The study was led by researchers at the Universities of Essex, Surrey and Birmingham and was funded by the Nuffield Foundation charitable trust.
Mask-wearing in schools not mandatory, but ‘strongly encouraged’
Children’s minister Vicky Ford said secondary school students should be “strongly encouraged” to wear masks, but their use is not mandatory.
Asked whether schools where there is not much mask-wearing should close, she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “No, I think that we should strongly encourage them to wear the masks, I think the vast majority of young people, they get this.
“But there will be some who will be very anxious and nervous about doing so and that’s why we understand that and that is why we have not made it mandatory but we have strongly encouraged this.”
She added that a child who tests positive for coronavirus with a lateral flow test but subsequently receives a negative PCR result should not return to school.
“They should not take the risk, we all want to make sure we can keep Covid out of the classrooms here,” she said.
Professor Calum Semple said it was “inevitable that we will see a rise in cases” as schools go back, but it was not so important if the reproduction number (the R) rose slightly.
He said it was more about “the absolute number of cases going to hospital and needing intensive care”.
The advice for teachers “is going to be wearing face masks, being really careful in the common room – their colleagues are more of a risk to them than the children,” he told BBC Breakfast.
He said society needed to learn how to live with the virus, adding: “It’s going to be difficult and it is going to mean some social distancing and face mask-wearing, good ventilation until really late summer when we’ve got the vast majority people vaccinated.”
Sage member says schools are ‘absolutely’ safe for children
Professor Calum Semple, from the University of Liverpool and a member of Sage, said schools were “absolutely” safe for children and it was safe for schools to go back.
“The subtle question about transmission and teachers, and bringing it home, well the school infection survey is showing that primary school children are half as likely to have had it and probably half as likely to transmit it,” he told BBC Breakfast.
“Secondary school children (are) slightly less protected because as they become adolescents they effectively have the biology of an adult, but even there, they’re half to a quarter as likely to have had it and transmit it.
“So the main driver is not the pupil-teacher relationship.
“When we talk about schools, it is the fact that the school brings adults together, whether that’s teaching staff, the domestic staff, the catering staff, and it’s an opportunity for mixing.”
He said the issue was down to “the fact that schools are a place of work”.
Mayor of London announces more transport services for school reopening
Sadiq Khan says that more public transport has been laid on in the capital today to ensure “everyone can travel safely” as pupils return to school on Monday, March 8.
Schools across England are reopening today. In London there will be additional services on some routes to make sure everyone can travel safely. Please help keep school services for school children only—use regular bus services if you need to travel.
Labour calls for school breakfast club to help pupils catch up
To help children recover from 109 days of lost face-to-face learning, Labour is calling for catch-up breakfast clubs before school to help make up for lost time.
The push comes as leader Sir Keir Starmer and shadow education secretary Kate Green prepare to kick-start a “Bright Future Taskforce” on Monday during a visit to a school in Dagenham, east London.
According to the party, the taskforce will deliver a long-term strategy for children’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.
Marking the day that schools reopen fully in England, Labour said its analysis of Government data indicated that children have each lost an average of 109 face-to-face school days since the first lockdown in March 2020.
The party said breakfast clubs would allow children extra time to socialise, while also giving schools additional learning periods to provide targeted tuition or catch-up support.
South Korea finds no links between vaccine and deaths
South Korea said on Monday it had found no link between the coronavirus vaccine and several recent deaths, as it ordered nearly 100,000 foreign workers to be tested after clusters emerged in dormitories.
Health officials had been investigating the deaths of eight people with underlying conditions who had adverse reactions after receiving AstraZeneca’s vaccine, but said they found no evidence that the shots played a role.
“We’ve tentatively concluded that it was difficult to establish any link between their adverse reaction after being vaccinated, and their deaths,” Korea Disease Control and Prevention AgencyDirector Jeong Eun-kyeong told a briefing.
Business leaders warn Sturgeon of economic firestorm
Scotland’s business leaders have pleaded with Nicola Sturgeon to start paying more attention to the economic devastation wrought by the Covid pandemic as she renewed her demands for a second independence referendum.
Speaking ahead of the First Minister’s statement on Tuesday on easing lockdown, the Scottish Chambers of Commerce argued the success of the UK’s vaccination programme meant she could allow firms to reopen more quickly.
Tim Allan, the business group’s president, warned Ms Sturgeon she needs to put out “a fire raging through this country which has burnt up many small businesses.”
Daily deaths fall below 100 for first time since October
The UK’s daily Covid-19 death toll fell below 100 on Sunday for the first time since October 9.
A further 82 people have died within 28 days of a Covid-19 test, marking the first time in the second wave that fewer than 100 people have died in a day, according to the government’s official statistics.
While the case and death data published on Sunday tends to be lower than during the week due to a lag in processing figures, the fall in deaths is an encouraging sign that both the vaccine programme and lockdown are sending the virus into retreat.
Japan’s inoculation campaign hampered by syringe shortage
Japan’s Covid-19 inoculation campaign is moving at a glacial pace, hampered by a lack of supply and a shortage of speciality syringes that underscore the enormous challenge it faces in its aim to vaccinate every adult by the year’s end.
Since the campaign began three weeks ago, just under 46,500 doses had been administered to frontline medical workers as of Friday.
At the current rate, it would take 126 years to vaccinate Japan’s population of 126 million. Supplies are, however, expected to increase in the coming months.
By contrast, South Korea, which began its vaccinations a week later than Japan, had administered nearly seven times more shots as of Sunday.
Vietnam launched its vaccination programme on Monday with healthcare workers first in the queue, even as the Southeast Asian country looked set to contain its fourth outbreak of the coronavirus since the pandemic began.
Vietnam has been lauded globally for its record fighting the virus. Thanks to early border closures, targeted testing, and a strict, centralised quarantine programme, Vietnam has suffered fewer disruptions to its economy than much of Asia.
Vietnam has kept the total number of infections in the country of 96 million at around 2,500 and reported just 35 deaths. It crushed a first wave of cases in February last year, and a larger cluster detected among foreign tourists in April.
NZ buying enough Pfizer vaccines for entire population
New Zealand will buy additional Covid-19 vaccines, developed by Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech, which will be enough to vaccinate the whole country, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday.
The government has signed an agreement to buy an extra 8.5 million doses, enough to vaccinate over 4 million people, Ms Ardern said, adding the vaccines were expected to reach the country in the second half of the year.
“This brings our total Pfizer order to 10 million doses or enough for 5 million people to get the two shots needed to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19,” Ms Ardern said in a statement.