The reopening of schools will have an impact on infection rates that could affect the roadmap for lifting restrictions, Boris Johnson has warned, as England’s deputy chief medical adviser said infections were still at a rate where a fourth wave could take off.
Johnson warned the number of patients being admitted to hospital with Covid-19 each day was eight times higher than “the lows of last summer” – and reiterated that people must still follow the “stay at home” message.
Jenny Harries, the deputy chief medical adviser for England, said that infection rates remained at the same levels as in late September, even without the effect of schools returning. That was the same period when government scientists became so concerned about infection rates that the government was advised to consider a two-week circuit-breaker lockdown.
Harries said although there was a steep decline in cases and deaths, infections were still causing a “substantial strain on the NHS”.
“The case rate is still falling, it’s below 100 per 100,000 in every region across the country, but it’s not uniformly across the country,” she told the Downing Street press conference.
“You can see that the rate is now back where it was in the end of September. So, still quite a high level, this is a level which a new wave could easily take off again from.
“The number of people in hospital with Covid-19 … back down to around 10,000 but this is still a substantial strain on the NHS … a good sign but there is still some way to go.”
Johnson said it was right that parents now sent their children back to school – and praised those who had run home-schooling, especially mothers.
“We all know that the education of our children is so important that the greater risk now is keeping them out of school for a day longer,” he said. “We all know that the burden has disproportionately fallen on women often holding down jobs and providing childcare at the same time.”
Johnson said that although schools reopening was a “crucial first step on what we hope is our cautious, but irreversible roadmap to freedom” the government would need to monitor the effect of schools’ return on the rest of the roadmap.
“We must remember that today’s return to schools will of course have an impact on the spread of the virus,” he said. “And so, at all times and as we decide on the next steps forward and when we take them … it’s more vital than ever to follow the rules.”