The UK government was facing growing calls on Saturday to keep all schools in England closed for at least two weeks as a result of surging coronavirus cases following another sudden reversal of policy.
The government, which oversees schools in England, has already decided to keep all schools in London closed next week to try to stem new infections. Unions want the policy extended across the whole of England, expressing fears about the health of both teachers and children.
The calls came as the UK registered a record 57,725 daily coronavirus cases on Saturday, as government figures showed five straight daily highs — all above 50,000 and nearly double the levels of two weeks ago.
After an emergency meeting on Saturday, the National Education Union, which represents over 450,000 education workers, called on Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Conservative government to move learning online for at least two weeks. It also told members they have a legal right not to have to work in an “unsafe environment” of accelerating coronavirus cases, hospital admissions and deaths.
The union has said the decision was “entirely necessary” but slammed the government for originally planning to allow some schools to reopen in areas where new infections were running high.
Another union representing teachers, the NASUWT, also called for an immediate nationwide move to remote education due to virus safety concerns.
The UK is in the midst of a sharp spike in new coronavirus cases that many have blamed on a new virus variant that is said to be up to 70% more infectious.
Also on Saturday, hospitals in Britain started receiving batches of the coronavirus vaccine developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca, approved by British regulators this week.
Some 530,000 doses of the vaccine will be available for rollout across the country from Monday. Nursing home residents and their caretakers, those over 80 and hospital staff are set to receive the first doses.
The Princess Royal Hospital in Haywards Heath, part of Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust in southern England, was one of the first to get the vaccine.
More than a million people in the UK have received their first shot of the Pfizer vaccine.
The government says 445 people have died in the 28 days after testing positive for the coronavirus. That takes the confirmed total to 74,570, the sixth-highest death toll in the world.