Johnson backed by Whitty on reopening schools just weeks after warning of risks

Johnson backed by Whitty on reopening schools just weeks after warning of risks

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England’s chief medical officer has backed Boris Johnson’s plans to reopen schools just weeks after warning of the risks involved.

Professor Chris Whitty said the evidence clearly showed children would suffer more harm if they did not return as planned next week.

Boris Johnson has pledged to get pupils behind their desks again from the start of September.

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The prime minister has declared the move a “moral duty” and warned it is crucial to kickstarting the economy again.

Millions of parents are struggling to balance the demands of their jobs and looking after their children full time.

As the government’s employment furlough scheme winds down between now and the end of October parents are urging the government to help them get back to work.

But surveys suggest many are also concerned about the risks involved in sending their children to school for the first time in five months.

Ministers hope the support of the chief medical officer will help convince parents it is safe to send their kids back to class.

Last month Professor Whitty cast doubt on the ability of schools to reopen as ministers were forced to announce a temporary halt to plans to lift restrictions on venues like bowling alleys and theatres.

Standing alongside Mr Johnson at a Downing Street press conference, Prof Whitty suggested the UK may have to “pull back” further to keep the disease under control.

Asked if schools could still reopen in September, he said: “I think what we’re seeing from the data from ONS and other data is that we have probably reached near the limit or the limits of what we can do in terms of opening up society.

“So what that means potentially is that if we wish to do more things in the future, we may have to do less of some other things.

“And these will be difficult tradeoffs, some of which will be decisions for the government and some of which are for all of us as citizens to do.”

“We are at the outer edges of what we can do,” he added.

In an interview released today, however, Prof Whitty says the clear evidence is that children will suffer more if they do not return to school.

He said: “The chances of many children being damaged by not going to school are incredibly clear and therefore the balance of risk is very strongly in favour of children going to school because many more are likely to be harmed by not going than harmed by going, even during this pandemic.”

He also released a statement, signed by all of the UK’s chief medical officers, setting out that while there are no “risk-free” options, there are a number of key steps that can be taken to support “the safe return to schools”.

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