UK prime minister says schools must open in September

LONDON (Reuters) - British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said reopening schools in September was a social, economic and moral imperative and insisted schools would be able to operate safely despite the coronavirus pandemic.

FILE PHOTO: Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson plays with toys as students look on during a visit to The Discovery School in Kent, Britain July 20, 2020. Jeremy Selwyn/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

His comments follow a study earlier this month which warned that Britain risks a second wave of COVID-19 in the winter twice as large as the initial outbreak if schools open without an improved test-and-trace system.

Writing in the Mail on Sunday, Johnson said restarting schools was a national priority. Schools would be the last places to close in future local lockdowns, he was quoted by another newspaper as telling a meeting on Thursday.

Schools in England closed in March during a national lockdown, except for the children of key workers, and reopened in June for a small number of pupils.

The government wants all pupils to return to school by early September.

“Keeping our schools closed a moment longer than absolutely necessary is socially intolerable, economically unsustainable and morally indefensible,” Johnson wrote.

The economic costs for parents who cannot work if schools are shut are spiralling, and the country faces big problems if children miss out on education, the prime minister warned.

“This pandemic isn’t over, and the last thing any of us can afford to do is become complacent. But now that we know enough to reopen schools to all pupils safely, we have a moral duty to do so,” Johnson wrote.

The headteachers’ union has criticised Johnson’s push and warned that schools will teach pupils on a “week on-week off” basis if there is a resurgence of the coronavirus, and are drawing up a number of contingency plans, according to the Telegraph.

The Sunday Times newspaper reported that Johnson has ordered a public relations campaign to ensure schools open on time.

Reporting by Sarah Young; additional reporting by Bhargav Acharya; editing by Philippa Fletcher and Leslie Adler