10:49 GMT21 September 2020
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    A row has erupted in the highest echelons of UK politics over the reopening of schools and the degree to which children will be safe to attend class amid the coronavirus pandemic.

    Boris Johnson has told his political allies that a “failure" to open up schools is "not an option”, despite warnings that the move could put children at risk of contracting coronavirus, according to the Sunday Telegraph.

    The Sunday Times reported earlier in August that the UK Prime Minister had ordered a public relations campaign to make sure schools open their doors at the beginning of the new term.

    Johnson reaffirmed his position in a separate report, claiming that reopening schools in September is a social, economic and moral imperative and that the institutions could operate safely while the COVID-19 pandemic is still ongoing.

    This follows Chris Whitty and other chief medical officers claiming that it will be harmful for children to remain at home and that young people have an "exceptionally small risk of dying".

    However, the medical chiefs admitted that reopening schools could see an increase in the R number above the critical level of 1, which would necessitate introducing local lockdown measures in order to bring the virus back under control.

    The joint statement said that while there were “no risk-free options”, more time out of the classroom would increase inequalities and reduce children's life chances, as well as worsen physical and mental health issues.

    In an interview broadcast on Sunday, Prof. Whitty says the threat posed by the disease is small compared to the “disparities” and “deep-rooted problems” that arise from keeping them at home.

    “The balance of risk is very strongly in favour of children going to school because many more are likely to be harmed by not going than harmed by going, even during this pandemic,” Prof. Whitty says

    Opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer warned that the government's commitment to return children to school is at "serious risk" due to recent failures.

    “I want to see children back at school next month, and I expect the prime minister to deliver on that commitment. However, the commitment is now at serious risk after a week of chaos, confusion and incompetence from the government,” the Labour leader said.

    He added that the government should have spent the summer implementing a "national plan to get all children back to school".

    "Instead, the last two weeks have been wasted clearing up a mess of the government’s own making over exam results."

    Starmer continued, saying that "the seriousness of ministerial failings, which caused a U-turn last week over downgraded A-level and GCSE grades by the education secretary, Gavin Williamson, mean that a generation are at risk of missing out on their education.

    A parents organisation, 'Parents4SafeReturn', has slammed the plan to open up schools and called for a boycott due to safety concerns.

    “We support our schools and want them to move to a wider opening as soon as it is safe. But the Prime Minister has now made clear he has no intention of listening to the science."

    They said that the move is "not supported [by] the government’s own Sage advice and does not meet its five tests" and puts all communities at risk as well as being particularly dangerous for staff and those most vulnerable such as black and ethnic minorities.

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    Tags:
    schools, coronavirus, COVID-19, Keir Starmer, opposition, Boris Johnson
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