England’s schools will “definitely” reopen to all pupils in September despite fears of a second wave of coronavirus, a Tory minister has declared.
Today’s pledge by Robert Jenrick raises the grim prospect of pubs, restaurants or other venues having to shut in return to keep the virus down.
Mr Jenrick insisted there were “no plans” to shutter the nation’s pubs and restaurants in exchange for keeping kids at school.
But he refused to rule out the move in future – and admitted “tough choices” will have to be made.
It comes after Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty warned on Friday that England has “probably” reached the limit of easing lockdown.
Prof Whitty said: “If we wish to do more things in the future, we may have to do less of some other things.”
Scientists have since raised speculation that some of the venues which have opened in England since July 4 will have to close to keep Covid-19 in balance.
Mr Jenrick today said ministers are “trying” to aim only for local restrictions when there’s an outbreak, and not blanket national shutdowns.
But he did not rule out shutting other venues nationwide, or putting in new controls on people’s movement, if that’s necessary to keep schools open.
The top Tory said “if we need to go further we’ll have to”, adding: “If the rate of infection rises then obviously we’ll have to take further action as well.”
He refused to rule out shutting pubs and restaurants, instead saying there are “no plans” to do so.
Mr Jenrick was quizzed on Times Radio as a flurry of reports emerged about how Boris Johnson could avoid the “nuclear option” of another national shutdown.
According to the Sunday Telegraph, options include asking all over-50s to stay at home more than the under-50s, or restricting travel in and out of London.
Other reports suggest a ban on two households meeting indoors, which already exists in parts of Greater Manchester, West Yorkshire and Lancashire, could be extended nationwide.
Mr Jenrick today said the flurry of reported plans were “speculation” and isolation for the over-50s was not being “actively considered”.
But he added: “You would expect the government to be considering all of the range of options that might be available to us.”
Asked if all schools in England will definitely reopen to all pupils in September he replied: “Yes.
“We want to ensure that schools return in September. We need to get all of our kids back to school.”
Asked if there could be tougher restrictions in other areas to cope with the increased risk from schools, he replied: “I think it’s difficult to speculate on that.
“Obviously we’ll keep all the options under review.
“But I think you’re right to say that reopening schools and getting our children back into the classroom with that direct, face-to-face contact with their teachers will be a priority for the government when we have to make those tough choices.”
Asked if those “tough choices” could include shutting bars and restaurants he said: “We don’t want to do anything that’s a blanket approach across the country.
“Our strategy is to manage this in a localised way with targeted action as we’ve done in Leicester, as we’re doing now in the North West.
“We will follow the data and look at options if we have to. But that approach is the way we restrict in certain areas.”
He refused to rule out shutting bars and restaurants if needed, instead replying: “We don’t have any plans to do that.
“We are taking a localised approach as we’ve seen in Leicester and the North West and that appears to be working today so we’ll keep going forward with that.”
The Prime Minister admitted on Friday there could be “trade-offs” to meet his goal of getting all pupils back in England’s schools from September 1.
Sir Jeremy Farrar, Chair of the Wellcome Trust, told The Sun reopening schools was about “choices and trade-offs” that would include workplaces, public transport, pubs and “many others”.