Search icon


01st Nov 2020

Scientist warns keeping schools open could prolong second lockdown

A leading scientist has warned that keeping schools open over the next month could keep infection rates too high to end the second lockdown

Reuben Pinder

“It’s unlikely this time to come down quite as fast”

Keeping schools open could keep infections rates high enough to prolong the second lockdown, a leading scientist has warned.

Former chief scientific adviser Sir Mark Walport told Sky News that with restrictions less severe than the first lockdown imposed back in March, there is a “possibility” this second lockdown will have to last longer than the planned four weeks.

“It’s unlikely this time to come down quite as fast as it did during the first lockdown because we have got schools open,” he told Sophy Ridge on Sunday morning.

Sir Jeremy Farrar, a member of SAGE, concurred with Walport’s comments. Speaking to Andrew Marr on BBC One, he said:

“The big difference to the first lockdown is that schools remain open.

“Because we have delayed the onset of this lockdown it does make keeping schools open harder.

“We know that transmission, particularly in secondary schools is high.

“Personally I think this is definitely the lockdown to put in place now but if that transmission, particularly in secondary schools, continues to rise then that may have to be revisited in the next four weeks in order to get R below one and the epidemic shrinking.”

Prime minister Boris Johnson announced on Saturday that from Thursday onwards, England would go back into lockdown, with non-essential retail, bars and restaurants all to close, while educational institutions will remain open – the most significant difference between the restrictions imposed in March and the second time around.

But the decision to keep schools open has been met with resistance from teaching unions.

According to the National Education Union, more than 70,000 teachers and support staff want schools to be closed – with exceptions made for the children of key workers.

Kevin Courtney, the NEU’s general secretary said in a statement: “The government should include all schools in proposals for an immediate national lockdown and as a minimum be preparing for school rotas at the end of that period.

“It is clear from ONS [Office for National Statistics] data that schools are an engine for virus transmission.

“It would be self-defeating for the government to impose a national lockdown, whilst ignoring the role of schools as a major contributor to the spread of the virus.

“This would be likely to lead to the need for even longer lockdowns in the future.”