Getting to grips with . . .

Why reopening schools may spell end of R-rate tracking

Uptick in Covid infections expected as children head back to classrooms

Millions of school children are back at school today as Boris Johnson heralds the first step in his roadmap for a return to everyday life and a “sense of normality”.

Health experts are hopeful that England’s third lockdown will be the last as secondary schools begin a phased return of pupils, who are being asked to have swab tests for Covid and to wear face masks in classrooms.

But the leader of one of the country’s largest teachers’ unions told Sky News that the “jury’s out” on whether schools will have to close again. Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, told the broadcaster that the government “hasn’t taken the safety measures it should have done” and “could have done much more”.

Ministers should have ensured that secondary schools had “ventilation units in every classroom”, she said, adding: “I hope - and my members hope - this will be the last time we close schools to the majority of pupils.”

Despite Bousted’s misgivings, however, the continued success of the vaccination campaign may ease previous worries about an uptick in Covid infections due to schools reopening.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock told a Downing Street press conference on Friday that “the link from cases to hospitalisations to deaths that had been unbreakable before the vaccine, that link is now breaking”.

The Times’ science editor Tom Whipple reports that “privately, figures in government believe that R will get very close to 1, and quite likely tip past it” as schools reopen.

But “the key measure will be whether coronavirus is filling up our hospitals, not whether it is filling up our testing laboratories”, Whipple writes. 

“We can live with a bit of growth” if the R rate rises but hospitalisation and deaths continue to fall as the vaccine rollout continues and “Covid’s ferocity” is “blunted”, he concludes. 

“So goodbye then, R. You won’t be missed.”

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