PM hails schools' return - but says we must remain 'very, very cautious'

Jack Jenkins, a 19-year-old student hairdresser from Thetford, has received a letter from 10 Downing Street, thanking him...

Boris Johnson has spoken at a Downing Street press conference on the first day of schools welcoming the return of all pupils. - Credit: PA

The return of millions of pupils to schools has been called a "big day and an emotional day" by the prime minister as said the country took its "crucial first step" to freedom.

Boris Johnson praised parents and teachers as the first easing of coronavirus restrictions came into effect today but urged caution as thousands still remain in hospital.

At a Downing Street press conference, Mr Johnson said: "We all know that the education of our children is so important that the greater risk now is keeping them out of school for a day longer.
"I want to thank all the teachers who have got their schools ready and who have been teaching throughout the period - whether that is remotely or in person. Your work has been astonishing."

He thanked parents who have been teaching their children at home, adding: "We all know that the burden has disproportionately fallen on women - often holding down jobs and providing childcare at the same time."

The prime minister said a third of the UK population has now received a coronavirus vaccine and warned it is "more vital than ever" to follow the rules as the number of patients admitted to hospital each day with Covid-19 are currently eight times higher than the numbers seen last summer.

Dr Jenny Harries, England's deputy chief medical officer, echoed the message as infection rates across the country infection rates have fallen under 100 cases per 100,000 of population.

She warned there was still "substantial strain" on the NHS.

She said: "This is a level at which a new wave could easily take off from again."

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Dr Harries said she was "very optimistic" going forward that schools would not be forced to close again if new cases emerged.

She said: "The testing programme in schools should mean that the likelihood of a case going into a school and then numbers of children having to come out of education to isolate should be very significantly reduced.

"There may be a very short period at the start of this programme where everybody gets used to it and a larger number of children come out of school and then it will settle down.

"It is really important when observing this that people think through the next three to four weeks, not the first one or two."

Dr Harries added it will "take time" for families to get used to testing children for coronavirus before going to school, and no child would be forced to have a test.

The prime minister was asked if he would accelerate the government's roadmap plans, and repeated measures would be driven by data.

He said: "We've just got to remain prudent and the whole point about this road map is it is intended to be cautious but irreversible and we think we can do that because of the success of the vaccine rollout.

"I think people would really rather trade some urgency and some haste in favour of security and certainty about those dates that we have set out."

"As I said earlier on, we will continue to be driven by data and not dates as we approach the next steps - April 12, May 17, June 21, we will continue to assess where we have got to.

"The data on the vaccinations and the impact that they are having is very encouraging, but we have to remain very, very cautious."

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