Greenwich council tells all schools to close over ‘extreme’ surge in Covid cases

Borough seeing ‘exponential growth’ in cases, council leader says

Conrad Duncan
Sunday 13 December 2020 19:49
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Mass Covid testing for some secondary schools in London, Essex and Kent

A London council has told all schools in its area to close from Monday and switch to online learning following signs of “exponential growth” in coronavirus cases.

Cllr Danny Thorpe, leader of Greenwich Council, said the Covid-19 situation in the area was “escalating extremely quickly” and now demanded “immediate action”.

“We now have the highest rates of infection in Greenwich than at any time since March, and for these reasons I have therefore asked all schools in Greenwich to close their premises from Monday evening and move to online learning for the duration of the term, with the exception of key worker children and those with specific needs,” Mr Thorpe said in a statement.

The London borough has seen its rolling seven-day rate of new Covid-19 cases rise sharply in recent days, with 248.3 cases per 100,000 people recorded in the seven days to 9 December compared to 158 cases in the seven days to 2 December.

However, its rate remains below the worst affected areas in London, with the borough of Havering recording an infection rate of 506.3 cases per 100,000 people in the seven days to 9 December.

The decision to close schools came after London mayor Sadiq Khan warned residents that the capital could be heading for tier 3 restrictions within days due to rising infection rates.

Mr Khan urged Londoners on Saturday to follow social distancing measures and wear face coverings while Christmas shopping as crowds descended on populars shops across major cities this weekend.

Earlier this week, health secretary Matt Hancock told pupils and teachers in parts of London, Kent and Essex to take a Covid test as part of a mass testing scheme for secondary schools.

“I urge every student, parent and teacher in these areas to step forward for testing – irrespective of whether they have symptoms,” Mr Hancock said.

“While Covid-19 may be lower risk to children and young people, it still poses a significant risk to their families and communities.”

Meanwhile, secondary schools and colleges in Wales will be moving to online learning from Monday as part of a “national effort to reduce transmission of coronavirus”.

Wales’s education minister Kirsty Williams said on Thursday that the decision followed advice from the Welsh chief medical officer that the public health situation in the country was “deteriorating”.

However, schools in England have been warned that they could face legal action if they allow pupils to learn remotely in the run-up to Christmas.

Powers introduced through the Coronavirus Act allow the government to issue “directions” to headteachers around education provision during the pandemic and education secretary Gavin Williamson could apply for a High Court injunction forcing schools to remain open.

Additional reporting by PA

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