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England's lockdown: Reopening schools could spark a rise in COVID-19 cases, says expert

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By Euronews
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Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson, wearing a face mask to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, visits a PPE manufacturing facility in north-east England
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson, wearing a face mask to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, visits a PPE manufacturing facility in north-east England   -   Copyright  Credit: AP
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Reopening schools in England next month risks a new growth of COVID-19 infections, an expert has told Euronews.

The UK reported around 10,000 new cases on Monday, a quarter of the number a month ago.

The declining numbers prompted Prime Minister Boris Johnson to today announce a path out of the current lockdown, including the reopening of schools from March 8.

But Robert West, a professor of health psychology at University College London, urged more caution over letting children return to the classroom.

"I think the big concern that I can see is around the reopening of schools where the government's modellers have indicated that opening schools - both primary and secondary - would probably increase the infection rates by possibly up to 0.5 or 0.6," he said.

"This would mean that we'd start to see a growth in infections at a time when we're not getting anything like enough protection from the vaccine."

Professor West said the government's move to ease lockdown measures is in part a political - rather than a public health - decision.

"Many of us, including myself, have gone on record as saying we believe politics has played too big a part in the government's response right from the beginning. And they've been late to do the things that needed to be done," he said.

"So I'm sure politics does play a part. I don't think, however, that the government is completely oblivious to the public health arguments because on the political side they're being pressed to go much faster by pressure groups within the Conservative Party. So they're treading what they believe is a reasonable path."

The success in rolling out a vaccine has played a part in today's announcement. More than a third of UK adults have had at least one vaccine since the operation began at the beginning of December and every adult is to be offered a first jab by the end of July.

But West feels most people in the UK will still follow the rules and remain cautious, at least for the foreseeable future.

"They've recognised that the vaccine is a really, really important part of the way that we're going to get out of this. But it's not a panacea," he explains. "You can't rely on the vaccine for all sorts of reasons. And I've been pretty impressed, actually, with the way the public has accepted this. People who I talk to are still very careful and cautious about social distancing and so on.

"And I think rightly so. It's a kind of cautious optimism. We do see a way out of it, but we don't want to go too quickly. And I think the last thing we want, and what would be so depressing, would be if we had to go back into another lockdown."

Watch the full interview with Prof West in the video player above.