The Prime Minister announced on Friday 20 March that schools across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are to close to pupils “until further notice”, in an effort to help reduce the spread of coronavirus.
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said that schools and nurseries would close on Friday (20 Mar), and that it was unclear if they would reopen before the summer holidays.
What is a key worker?
The Prime Minister announced that schools are to close for all except those of key workers and vulnerable children, with the government releasing an official full list of who falls into this category.
Gov.uk explains, “Parents whose work is critical to the COVID-19 response include those who work in health and social care and in other key sectors outlined below. Many parents working in these sectors may be able to ensure their child is kept at home. And every child who can be safely cared for at home should be.
Please, therefore, follow these key principles:
- If it is at all possible for children to be at home, then they should be.
- If a child needs specialist support, is vulnerable or has a parent who is a critical worker, then educational provision will be available for them.
- Parents should not rely for childcare upon those who are advised to be in the stringent social distancing category such as grandparents, friends, or family members with underlying conditions.
- Parents should also do everything they can to ensure children are not mixing socially in a way which can continue to spread the virus. They should observe the same social distancing principles as adults.
- Residential special schools, boarding schools and special settings continue to care for children wherever possible.
- If your work is critical to the COVID-19 response, or you work in one of the critical sectors listed below, and you cannot keep your child safe at home then your children will be prioritised for education provision.”
The full list includes workers in the following sectors:
Health and social care
Including doctors, nurses, midwives, paramedics, social workers, care workers, and other frontline health and social care staff required to maintain the UK’s health and social care sector
Education and childcare
This includes nursery and teaching staff, social workers and those specialist education professionals who must remain active during the COVID-19 response to deliver this approach
Key public services
Which includes those essential to the running of the justice system, religious staff, charities and workers delivering key frontline services, and journalists and broadcasters who are providing public service broadcasting
Local and national government
This only includes those administrative occupations which are essential to the effective delivery of the COVID-19 response or delivering essential public services, such as the payment of benefits
Food and other necessary goods
Those involved in food production, processing, distribution, sale and delivery as well as those essential to the provision of other key goods
Public safety and national security
This includes police and support staff, Ministry of Defence civilians, contractor and armed forces personnel, fire and rescue service employees, National Crime Agency staff, those maintaining border security, prison and probation staff and other national security roles
Those who will keep the air, water, road and rail passenger and freight transport modes operating during the COVID-19 response, including those working on transport systems through which supply chains pass
Utilities, communication and financial services
This includes staff needed for essential financial services provision, the oil, gas, electricity and water sectors, information technology and data infrastructure sector and primary industry supplies to continue during the COVID-19 response, as well as key staff working in the civil nuclear, chemicals, telecommunications, postal services and delivery, payments providers and waste disposal sectors
Gov.uk adds: “If workers think they fall within the critical categories above they should confirm with their employer that, based on their business continuity arrangements, their specific role is necessary for the continuation of this essential public service.
“If your school is closed then please contact your local authority, who will seek to redirect you to a local school in your area that your child, or children, can attend.”
The Prime Minister has also urged parents not to leave children in the care of grandparents or older relatives who are at greater risk of becoming seriously ill with coronavirus.
Who is a vulnerable child?
Vulnerable children include those who have a social worker and have Education, Health and Care Plans.
Schools are not to close for such children classed as ‘vulnerable’, and the government is to provide financial support for those affected as is required.
Any children who do not fall into these categories should remain at home with appropriate care “until further notice”.
When will schools reopen?
The Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said in Wednesday’s (18 Mar) briefing that schools will be closed until further notice, but would remain shut for at least five weeks - until 27 April at the earliest.
However, it is not unlikely that the break could last until the end of the school year and the six week summer holidays.
What about children who get free school meals?
Mr Williamson promised that free schools meals will continue to be provided for all children who need it, but will most likely be in the form of supermarket vouchers.
Families who are on the Free School Meals scheme are to be put on a national voucher system, allowing them to receive free coupons with a monetary voucher to cover the loss of school meals. These vouchers can be spent as they like.
Coronavirus: the facts
What is coronavirus?
COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that can affect lungs and airways. It is caused by a virus called coronavirus.
What caused coronavirus?
The outbreak started in Wuhan in China in December 2019 and it is thought that the virus, like others of its kind, has come from animals.
How is it spread?
As this is such a new illness, experts still aren’t sure how it is spread. But, similar viruses are spread in cough droplets. Therefore, covering your nose and mouth when sneezing and coughing, and disposing of used tissues straight away is advised. Viruses like coronavirus cannot live outside the body for very long.
What are the symptoms?
The NHS states that the symptoms are: a dry cough, high temperature and shortness of breath - but these symptoms do not necessarily mean you have the illness. Look out for flu-like symptoms, such as aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose and a sore throat. It’s important to remember that some people may become infected but won’t develop any symptoms or feel unwell.
What precautions can be taken?
Washing your hands with soap and water thoroughly. The NHS also advises to cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze; put used tissues in the bin immediately and try to avoid close contact with people who are unwell. Also avoiding touching eyes, nose and mouth unless your hands are clean.
As of Monday 23 March the prime minister has put the UK into lockdown and instructed all citizens to stay at home. People can only leave their homes to exercise once a day, go shopping for food and medication, travel for medical needs or to care for a vulnerable person, and travel to work only if essential. Police will be able to enforce these restrictions.
All non-essential shops will close with immediate effect, as will playgrounds, places of worship and libraries. Large events or gatherings of more than two people cannot go ahead, including weddings and celebrations. Funerals can only be attended by immediate family. Children of separated parents can go between both parents' homes.
Anyone with a cough or cold symptoms needs to self-isolate with their entire household for 14 days.
The government has now instructed bars, restaurants, theatres and non-essential businesses to close and will review on a ‘month to month’ basis. Schools closed from Friday 20 March for the foreseeable future, and exams have been cancelled.
The over 70s or anyone who is vulnerable or living with an underlying illness are being asked to be extra careful and stay at home to self-isolate. People with serious underlying health conditions will be contacted and strongly advised to undertake "shielding" for 12 weeks.
For more information on government advice, please check their website gov.uk
Should I avoid public places?
You should now avoid public places and any non-essential travel. Travel abroad is also being advised against for the next 30 days at least, and many European countries have closed their borders.
What should I do if I feel unwell?
Don’t go to your GP but instead call NHS 111 or look online at the coronavirus service that can tell you if you need medical help and what to do next. 111.nhs.uk/covid-19
When to call NHS 111
NHS 111 should be used if you feel unwell with coronavirus symptoms, have been in a country with a high risk of coronavirus in the last 14 days or if you have been in close contact with someone with the virus.
Sources: World Health Organisation and NHS