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Schools re-opening: government failing to follow safety advice

It is not safe enough for all schools in England to re-open on 1 June, says a report from a committee chaired by former Chief Scientific Adviser Sir David King

It is not safe enough for all schools in England to re-open on 1 June, says a report from Independent SAGE, the 12-strong committee chaired by former Chief Scientific Adviser Sir David King.

The report, published on 28 May 2020, was prepared after a public consultation with parents and teachers in association with the British Medical Journal and parenting website Mumsnet.

Government undermining its own messaging

The report warns of a new surge in COVID-19 cases as result of ‘top-down decision-making without engagement’ with risk of schools being ‘institutional amplifiers’, and says that modelling from the government’s own Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies (SAGE) shows R (the reproduction number) increasing if schools re-open. Alluding to the recent events surrounding the Prime Minister’s adviser, Dominic Cummings, it also notes that the government has heightened the risks of a resurgence of COVID-19 cases by undermining its own messaging.

The authors of the report recommend a four-stage stage process that takes into account risks to ‘the school, the staff, the pupil and the parents and family environment’ and must be made on a ‘case-by-case basis’ using local real-time data with a policy of ‘well-functioning, coordinated, local test, track and isolate’ in place. The report notes: ‘We have seen no compelling evidence that these conditions have so far been met across the country. Until they are, it is not safe to open schools everywhere on June 1.’

The report concludes that the government is not following the advice of its own scientists.

Who is Independent SAGE?

‘We are following the ​science’ is the message the British public have been hearing from government since COVID-19 mitigating measures began. It says it is following the advice of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE). But the activities of the committee have been kept secret and excluded from scrutiny by the public or wider scientific community.

In response, on Monday 4 May 2020, the Independent SAGE convened as a group of preeminent experts from the UK and around the world. The aim of the Independent SAGE was and is to provide robust, independent advice to HM Government with the purpose of helping the UK navigate COVID-19 whilst minimising fatalities.

The Independent SAGE is chaired by former HM Government Chief Scientific Advisor Sir David King and draws on a range of international and British experts.

The report also directly contradicts the advice of Professor Jonathan Van Tam who said at a press conference on 25 May that children are less likely to pass on the virus: ‘Ongoing UK data and international data suggest that children are in fact as likely as adults to become infected and carry the virus…”’

Also noted was the heightened risk of disease for families with children living in intergenerational households or who come from a BAME or disadvantaged backgrounds.

Independent SAGE Report 3 (28 May 2020)

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