OPINION

‘Living with covid’ plan is a disaster waiting to happen for schools

Posted On 22 Mar 2022 at 12:05 am

I have read the government’s “Living with covid” plan for schools and it isn’t going to work.

Any ideas that you can take “personal responsibility” and keep yourself covid-safe, or weigh up your own choices and risks around the virus, are simply laughable if you either work or have children in education.

The new regime of no testing, no masks, no contact tracing and no mandatory self-isolation if you test positive means that schools are now flying blind: relying on not only the sense of responsibility but in a lot of cases the clairvoyance of every member of their community.

As a parent, you no longer have any idea if the child your son or daughter sits next to all day has covid. And to be fair, that child’s parent probably doesn’t know either.

The end of free routine testing is the end of spotting the one third of cases which are asymptomatic, and even if the child has a sniffle, do we really expect busy, skint parents to grab a £5.99 test to check?

Staff no longer know who in their class has covid. And they can no longer order free tests to find out. If you are a clinically vulnerable member of staff, your work now puts you in an impossible position.

The “Living with covid” plan makes it clear: vaccines form the basis of the whole strategy. Again, schools are ignored. Five to 11-year-olds haven’t even had the chance of a first dose yet. Uptake among 12 to 15s is still low.

We’re being encouraged to think all this doesn’t matter: most kids experience a mild or asymptomatic illness, so what’s the problem?

Firstly, not all children are so lucky. A small percentage will catch covid and become seriously ill or even die. A small percentage will develop long covid. Given mass transmission, a small percentage of a very large number means misery for a lot of our kids.

ONS (Office for National Statistics) data shows 21,000 children in the UK have now had long covid symptoms for over a year. The effects of the huge omicron wave haven’t even appeared in these statistics yet.

Secondly, pretending covid is no longer a problem in schools doesn’t stop staff catching it. Covid circulating untested in schools will lead to more staff absence, more disrupted education, less of the stability our children need.

And while pupils may mostly experience mild illness, staff certainly don’t. ONS data shows that teaching and social care have the highest prevalence of long covid of any occupations. These are high-exposure jobs, now stripped of protections.

School staff have worked so hard, coped with so much, sacrificed their health and their personal lives through this pandemic. “Living with covid” feels like throwing them to the wolves. It also feels like a recruitment and retention crisis in the making.

Lastly, uncontrolled transmission in schools affects us all. We’ve watched the graphs for long enough to know: wave after wave of covid starts in school-age children, then passes up through the age groups, through the parents, into the community where it infects the elderly and the vulnerable.

The greatest flaw in the plan for us all to take “individual responsibility” is that the effects of this pandemic are not equally felt.

You may feel comfortable with a certain level of risk but the people taking the hit for that risk are those living in poverty, with health vulnerabilities, in areas with poor air quality, living in overcrowded or multi-generational homes and, as the Covid Disparities Report tells us, those of black or south Asian origin.

Removing covid protections from schools allows the virus to be brought home into disadvantaged and vulnerable households to do terrible damage with every wave.

And there will be another wave. And many more, if we keep providing the virus with every opportunity it needs to transmit, mutate, transmit.

A true “Living with covid” plan would do everything possible to minimise transmission in schools. There would be a budget for upgrading ventilation and air filtration, as we have repeatedly called for; regular free testing would continue; self-isolation for positive cases would be mandated; and masks would be allowed to return whenever there are cases in a school.

A true “Living with covid” plan would focus on long-term solutions, with the aim of achieving stability and facing the inevitable next wave much better prepared.

This plan isn’t living with covid. It’s pretending it’s gone away. Sticking their heads in the sand instead of working out a new, sustainable way forward for our schools, sacrificing the most vulnerable in our society and choosing self-delusion over science is no example for our government to set for our children.

Councillor Sarah Nield is the Green chair of the Adult Social Care and Public Health Sub-Committee on Brighton and Hove City Council.

This article first appeared on the Bright Green website.

  1. makoshark Reply

    Covid 19 is becoming the new ‘flu’ and will certainly be around each year the same way as ‘the flu’ (and all its variants) and the common cold (and all its variants). Hiding ourselves away in lockdowns and covering our faces with mostly ineffective paper masks is really not going to help in any way, shape or form, and creating adverse effect upon peoples mindset is going to be far more damaging. We absolutely must get used to living and controlling Covid 19 and stop the reverse of Covid 19 controlling us, as we have with the flu and common colds in the past and will continue to do so in the future.
    Lets get out of this habit of trying to scare people into ceasing their social life and effecting their mental wellbeing and start getting our lives back into what we can do and not what politicians and so called experts try to make us do!

  2. GG Reply

    They clearly doesn’t understand that over vaccinating creates stronger strains of covid. This is how viruses work. They mutate to become more successful and weaker. Vaccinating everyone means the virus needs to mutate to get past all the vaccines and Jaycee stringer.

  3. Jon Wallington Reply

    Sarah says ‘ A small percentage will catch covid and become seriously ill or even die’

    There is absolutely no evidence of this, it’s unnecessary scaremongering and deeply damaging to children and society to perpetuate these myths. What is far more likely is that if you restrict children and send them home and make them wear ineffective masks, you will create far more issues than Covid ever did.

    Please grow up and step outside your cosy COVID bubble.

  4. Voice of freedom Reply

    A summary for those who can’t be bothered to read this peak 2020 Guardian-esque pro-lockdown tripe: “Big State socialist angry that dream of country ruled by overbearing, top-down social control evaporates as normality returns”

  5. Phoebe Barrera Reply

    Whereas having a group of hypocritical Green councillors making statements and introducing policies about subjects they know nothing about is a disaster happening right now.

  6. Clare Reply

    https://mobile.twitter.com/statsjamie/status/1518288152624078849?cxt=HHwWgoC9vfrBhZIqAAAA

    As this data from the ONS shows, the effects predicted in this opinion piece have not transpired and random sampling shows that covid infections have been decreasing in all UK nations for some weeks.

    Meanwhile, the impact of lockdowns on the mental health on our young people continues to escalate, as demand far outstrips resources in services such as CAMHS

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