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The waiting game

Leading GP says schools should not reopen until Covid numbers 'much lower'

BMA Council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul, a GP in North London, has backed teachers who say it is 'too soon' to start re-opening schools in England from 1 June.

In a letter to the National Education Union, Dr Nagpaul said that the BMA’s Public Health Medicine Committee (PHMC) 'has considered the evidence available on the reopening of schools and has found it to be thus far conflicting'.

The Government plans for a staggered re-opening of schools from 1 June, with the intention of all primary school children to have returned by the end of the month.

But the National Education Union (NEU) has said that before that should happen England needs, among other things, much lower numbers of Covid-19 cases, and comprehensive access to regular testing for children and staff.

Dr Nagpaul's letter in solidarity highlighted the 'relatively small amount of research available' on how the disease affects children 'and the uncharted territory we find ourselves in'.

The letter said that the BMA has 'noted the launch' of the NEU's campaign, and said: '[W]e stand in full support of you.'

And he added that the 'view of the members of the PHMC is completely aligned with the NEU that, until we have got case numbers much lower, we should not consider reopening schools'.

‘The NEU is absolutely right to urge caution, to prioritise testing and to protect the vulnerable. We cannot risk a second spike or take actions which would increase the spread of the virus, particularly as we see sustained rates of infection across the UK,' Dr Nagpaul said.

Dr Nagpaul previously said in response to the Government's announcement earlier this week on easing lockdown restrictions that it was 'too fast, too confusing and too risky'.

It comes as intensive care units in England have noted an extremely rare new inflammatory illness in children which they believe to be linked to Covid-19, however this remains subject to further investigation.

The Government's advice remains that Covid-19 is likely to only pose moderate, if any, symptoms in children.

Speaking in this evening's Government coronavirus briefing, NHS England primary care medical director Dr Nikki Kanani said 'risk is relative' and 'we have to think about the wider risks to children and families as well'.

She said: 'We wouldn't send children back if it wasn't safe to do so, but we're doing that in a careful, phased way, and monitoring the whole time to make sure that children and families are well.

'But actually, some of our children who are more vulnerable, who need more support, need to be back in school to get the benefit of both the social environment, but also the physical space as well. So it's really important that we carefully get our children back to school, because actually that is what is going to be good for them in the long run.'

Readers' comments (15)

  • Well done BMA.
    Its interesting how few articles refer to the safety of teachers. The Gov’t want them back purely for their “babysitting” role. Let one minister or head of an academy stand up and say “i am happy to go to jail for years if a teacher dies” and i may be more prepared to see them back in the classroom.

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  • Nonsense there is little/no evidence of children transmitting CV19 to adults and indeed the staff room would be more “dangerous “ than the classroom. Meanwhile in our wonderful modern society (we have the most expensive poverty in the world) some vulnerable kids are being ill fed and possibly abused at home. All children are missing education which will stymie some of the future life chances and consequently their health. I reckon teaching unions aren’t that bothered about education but thank goodness most teachers are.

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  • BMA try doing your actual job.
    You are a union for doctors not teachers.
    Stop getting distracted

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  • Common sense dictates that children are likely to pass the virus on; why would children be any less likely to transmit it than adults? The new multisystem syndrome that appears to be a secondary effect of covid is also very worrying; yes, so far the numbers affected are low but what will the future trend be and any death is one death too many. I agree that there are deleterious effects of lockdown as mentioned above but that should not mean that the genuine concerns of parents, teachers and unions are ignored or belittled. I think the BMA are right to speak up on this issue and we should not just blindly accept what we are being told by the government; remember the u turns on testing, contact tracing, herd immunity etc...?

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  • BMA are just an embarrassment.

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  • Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter at the University of Cambridge estimates that the risk to children of catching and then dying from coronavirus is one in 5.3 million.

    Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health:
    Over 800 children aged one to nine die each year in the UK. One in eight of these deaths are caused by accidents.
    Last year, over 45,000 under-fives were admitted to hospitals across England, Scotland and Wales as a result of accidents.
    Almost three-quarters of these accidents happened at home.
    Nearly 1,300 young people aged 10 to 19 die each year in the UK. One in three of these deaths are caused by accidents.
    Accidental injury is the leading cause of death for young people aged 10 to 19.
    There is a strong link between deprivation and the risk of death throughout childhood.

    It would appear that the teachers' main concern is a totally risk-free environment for themselves and not their pupils' welfare

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  • The demographic of teachers under 30 years age? 4 month holiday?

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  • Sceptic @11:39am ... I love your stats.. Makes sense. Case closed... Back to school for my kids !!

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  • Public sector teachers have always regarded the business of teaching children as a massive imposition on their otherwise holiday filled sinecures.

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