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The UK has made the decision for schools to remain open in the face of the Covid-19 coronavirus, despite widespread school closures in other countries affected by the virus.

The decision came as a shock to some, following the Republic of Ireland’s decision to close all schools and colleges until 29 March, earlier in the day.

But why has the Prime Minister made this decision, and are some school closures in the UK still likely? This blog post explains.

You can view live updates on how the coronavirus is affecting schools here.

What was announced today

Boris Johnson described the coronavirus crisis as “the worst public health crisis for a generation” and also warned families that relatives could be lost “before their time”.

It was also revealed that the number of people in the UK with the disease could be 10,000 people. 596 cases across the country are currently confirmed.

People over 70 and people with pre-existing health conditions have been told to take extra care, for example not to go on cruises. School trips abroad should also be avoided.

You can view the full press conference below.

Coronavirus in schools: UK opts for schools to remain open

On the potential for school closures, the Prime Minister said:

“We are not, repeat not, closing schools now. The scientific advice is that this could do more harm than good at this time.

“But of course we’re keeping this under review and this, again, may change as the disease spreads.

“Schools should only close if they’re specifically advised to do so; and that remains our advice.”

Scientific Adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance said: “For this to be effective closures would have to last between 13 and 16 weeks. Children would in any practice keep mixing with each other during that period and they might get sent to stay with grandparents which would increase the risk.”

How have parents, teachers and experts reacted to this news

The Daily Mail reports the decision could cause ‘outrage‘, and points to a petition for schools to be closed in the aftermath of the epidemic – the petition currently has more than 350,000 signatures.

Earlier this week, former Tory leadership contender Rory Stewart said:

“I feel the Government should be moving faster, I’m afraid there are many reasons why governments tend to be too slow, for example the costs of acting early are very high.

“But I would be, for example, shutting down all schools in London now. You should have no regrets about acting quickly, this is the biggest single event of this kind for 100 years since the Spanish flu, of course there are going to be significant economic costs, but better to take those economic costs immediately and keep it short and I think we are being too slow in responding.”

Former Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, added:

I think it is surprising and concerning that we’re not doing any of it at all when we have just four weeks to get to the stage that Italy is at.

You would have thought that every single thing we do in that four weeks would be designed to slow the spread of people catching the virus.

One commentator on TES Forum said:

“It’s a tough call, on the one hand, the amount of mixing and mingling that happens in schools and colleges provides a quick and easy method for viral spread. On the other, where are the students and staff going to go if not at school? Who is going to look after the students? Will their parents need to be off work too? Each school needs to find a way to enable distance learning, to avoid it just becoming an extra holiday.

“At my college we are already setting up contingencies by uploading resources to our VLE so that in the event of a closure, students can work from home. This can be tracked and monitored by IT, and will be treated like attendance at any other lesson. In the same vein, staff will be expected to work from home to enable instruction and assessment of students VLE work.”

Another added: “Special schools should be closed straight away. A lot of children in those schools have serious underlying health issues.”

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