The BMA has moved to clarify its stance on schools reopening, after its chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said last week that this should not be considered until case numbers are ‘much lower’.
However, while media reports today said the doctors’ union had withdrawn its opposition to Government plans for schools in England to reopen to some cohorts of pupils on 1 June, the new statement instead seemed to water down Dr Nagpaul’s stance.
Quoting international research into Covid-19, BMA public health medicine committee chair Dr Peter English argued that there is not enough knowledge yet to say it is definitely safe for children to return to school.
He said: ‘A focus on arbitrary dates for schools to reopen fully is polarising. The BMA wants schools to reopen as soon as it is safe to do so and the evidence allows – this could be before June 1st or after. A zero-risk approach is not possible. This is about “safe” being an acceptable level of risk.
‘Parents up and down the UK are asking the same question: is it safe? The simple answer is, we do not yet know. Our neighbours in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have adopted a more cautious approach, not yet opening schools until more evidence is available.
‘There is growing evidence that the risk to individual children from Covid-19 is extremely small. However, there is no united view yet from the scientific community on how likely it is that children can spread this deadly virus to others, including vulnerable adults.’
But Dr English also acknowledged the effect of closed schools on children’s health.
He said: ‘The decision about when schools should be allowed to reopen is an extremely difficult one. We know that the longer children are kept away from the classroom, the greater the harm to their education, to their life opportunities and indeed their mental, physical and social wellbeing. For disadvantaged children, this harm is sadly even greater.’
And he concluded by admitting the Government’s decision is ‘unenviable’.
He said: ‘The Government’s decision on whether to reopen schools is a finely balanced and unenviable one. Our passion and the focus of my committee is the eradication of health inequality. As the ONS has found, this virus disproportionately affects those from the most deprived background as well as some BAME communities.
‘We must safeguard against any measures that risks exacerbating those inequalities. A second peak would impact the disadvantaged the most and could lead to schools being closed for a far longer period.’
Schools have been closed across the UK since the end of March, but the Government wants them to reopen from 1 June. The governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have said they are taking a different approach and delaying their reopening.