LONDON—The reopening of England’s schools to all pupils on March 8 will mark the first step toward normality and is only possible because of public efforts to bring COVID-19 infection rates down, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said.
Johnson announced a roadmap for lifting lockdown measures in which schools open first, followed in later stages by the gradual easing of restrictions on “mixing” with other people, and the reopening of “non-essential” shops and other venues.
In the final stage, which will take place no earlier than June 21, the government hopes to remove all remaining legal limits on contact with others.
“The reopening of schools marks a truly national effort to beat this virus,” Johnson said, referring to the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, which causes the disease COVID-19.
“It is because of the determination of every person in this country that we can start moving closer to a sense of normality—and it is right that getting our young people back into the classroom is the first step.”
On March 7, Education Minister Gavin Williamson also hailed the reopening of schools as “the first step towards this process of recovery and getting everyone back to the lives that we had just over a year ago.” He also told Sky News the government is looking at a whole range of proposals to help pupils to catch up on missed education, such as a five-term year and a longer school day.
Each step on the roadmap will depend on the level of COVID-19 cases, the government has said. It hopes the pandemic can be contained by a vaccine program that has already delivered a dose to nearly 22 million people, as well as regular testing.
Many secondary schools and colleges had already started inviting students for their first “lateral flow” COVID-19 tests, which give rapid results, with nearly 1 million conducted last week, the government said.
After three initial tests on site, students will be provided with two tests to use each week at home, it said, adding that nearly 57 million tests had been delivered to schools and colleges across the country.
There are concerns that the low accuracy of the rapid lateral flow tests (LFD) will result in students with a false positive being forced to self-isolate.
“The concern is that the void rate with LFDs is about as high as the positive rate. About as many tests are void as test positive,” professor Sheila Bird from the Royal Statistical Society told BBC Radio 4’s Today program. “It may be you’ve taken them badly or the kit has performed badly.”
A spokesperson from the Department for Education told The Guardian that a negative PCR test won’t release such students from self-isolation.
“As has always been the case, a negative PCR test does not release an individual from self-isolation requirements,” the spokesperson said. “Individuals with a positive LFD test result from an assisted test site will need to self-isolate in line with the guidance for households with possible coronavirus infection.”
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said that the accuracy of the tests meets the requirement, and that it’s needed to discover asymptomatic cases.
“Around one in three people who have coronavirus have no symptoms and by rolling out rapid testing to schools and universities at pace, we will help uncover hidden cases of the virus and break chains of transmission, stopping outbreaks before they get a chance to develop,” a spokesperson from the DHSC told The Epoch Times in an email.
“Robust evaluations from Public Health England and the University of Oxford show lateral flow tests meet the required level of accuracy to be used in the community,” the spokesperson added.
Apart from testing, the government has also recommended that secondary school pupils wear face coverings inside classrooms.
The Epoch Times contributed to this report.