Not safe to reopen all schools next week, Independent Sage warns

It is not safe to start reopening all schools next week, a group of independent scientists has warned.

The committee accused the government of not listening to its own scientific advice as it pushes for certain classes to go back to school on 1 June.

In a new report, the Independent Sage group said the proposals risk “a new surge of cases of Covid-19 in some communities”.

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The government’s scientific advisory committee, Sage, has modelled the impact of seven different ways schools could reopen, which all result in the ‘R’ rate – or the rate of transmission – increasing, the group said.

“The school reopening scenario chosen by the government is not one of those modelled by Sage making the potential impact of reopening even more uncertain,” the Independent Sage report said. “Robust testing systems are not in place everywhere.”

The committee of independent scientists added: “Additionally, public adherence to social distancing is influenced by trust in the government and its messaging. This trust is increasingly strained.

“We therefore believe that by going ahead with a general school reopening from 1 June, the government is not following the advice of its Sage group.”

Sir David King, a former government chief scientific adviser, set up Independent Sage to look at how the UK could work its way out of coronavirus lockdown after the official Sage faced criticism over an alleged lack of transparency.

He claimed the new board was necessary because he feared experts were deferring to ministers.

Speaking about the plans to reopen schools on 1 June, Sir David said: “Whilst we totally understand the imperative to get the nation’s children back in the classroom as soon as it is safe to do so, the evidence clearly shows that the government has jumped the gun here.”

He added: “Crucially we conclude that the best way forward cannot be one size fits all, it requires localised case by case responses to ensure that the risk of flair ups is kept to a minimum.”

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Boris Johnson’s plans to ease the lockdown will be confirmed on Thursday in an official review that Downing Street expects will give the all-clear for schools to welcome back more students on 1 June – although this plan could change depending on further scientific advice.

The UK prime minister has said it is his “intention” for schools to begin resuming with Reception, Years 1 and Year 6 classes from Monday.

Additional reporting by Press Association

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