The Conservatives have accused Labour of playing party politics with children’s welfare by delaying the reopening of schools in Brighton and Hove based on myths rather than scientific evidence.
Councillor Samer Bagaeen said that Labour-led Brighton and Hove City Council did not take scientific advice before deciding to keep schools closed.
He said that the council chose to ignore the government’s expert advice and had cited unreliable and alarmist figures suggesting that the coronavirus was spreading more widely than it was.
His remarks came after Labour’s school’s chief, Councillor John Allcock, told the BBC that the decision was down to health and safety not party politics.
Councillor Allcock and unions, representing teachers and school staff, have said that it is not yet safe enough to reopen schools in the way that government had proposed.
When many primary schools around the country started a phased reopening on Monday (1 June), those in Brighton and Hove remained closed except to vulnerable children and the children of key workers.
Councillor Bagaeen, a university professor, said: “Labour and the unions have used concerns about a test and trace system as one of its main reasons for advising schools not to open as per the government’s advice.”
But he said: “At the daily briefing yesterday, the national co-ordinator of the UK coronavirus (covid-19) testing programme, Professor John Newton, said that the test and trace system was indeed up and running, with 25,000 contact tracers employed, including 7,500 clinicians, with the system working well, with significant spare capacity.”
Councillor Bagaeen said that there were 1,570 new cases on Monday so, with 7,500 clinicians available to support them – a ratio of six to one – there was no genuine cause for concern.
He also criticised the council and unions’ reliance on an “R” number – an estimated measure of the coronavirus transmission rate – calculated by the Deckzero website as 1.7 for Brighton and Hove.
This would suggest that every person with the virus was passing it on to 1.7 other people and that the infection rate was accelerating.
The government said that the R number needed to drop below 1 – and be as close to zero as possible – for the threat posed by the virus to recede.
Councillor Bagaeen said: “The unions said that the R number was too high but this statistic has been confirmed as misleading in the advice circulated by the council’s public health director Alistair Hill.
“He said: ‘We have very serious concerns about the deckzero.com website’s information about the R number.
“‘Quite simply, the alleged statistics they are using are misleading and potentially dangerous in terms of giving either false reassurance or creating unnecessary concerns.’”
Councillor Bagaeen, who speaks for Brighton and Hove Conservatives on health policy, added: “The administration did not take further additional scientific advice in making the announcement to parents not to follow government advice.
“No scientific assessment was made of the mental health implications of keeping children at home for long periods.
“No scientific assessment was made on the impact on local parents.
“The administration is advising schools to remain closed but has no broader plan of criteria to reopen schools.
“The basis of Labour’s claims for keeping Brighton and Hove schools closed is increasingly looking shaky and misleading.
“Still they listen to the unions and refuse to adjust their position based on the science.
“Every day Labour delays reopening schools is another day that inequality increases in Brighton and Hove’s education system.”