A petition to close UK schools due to coronavirus is gaining traction

Wednesday, 11th March 2020, 2:23 pm
Updated Wednesday, 11th March 2020, 2:24 pm

An online petition asking the government to close schools across the UK due to the ongoing outbreak of Covid-19 is swiftly approaching a quarter of a million signatures.

The UK government and devolved governments across the union have all stated there is no need to close schools yet, but that policy is constantly under review.

Last week, Italy ordered the closure of all schools and universities, and has now gone into a county-wide quarantine. Italians are even being denied accesses to bordering Austria, as the country is dealing with the largest outbreak outside of China.

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Why won't the government close schools?

Some schools have been closed as instances of the Covid-19 strain of coronavirus were discovered in students, staff or parents. The vast majority of schools in the UK are still open as the government assures the public that life will be "business as usual".

Two of the earliest school closures were Cransley School in Northwich, Cheshire, and Trinity Catholic College in Middlesbrough, because pupils from these schools had returned from a trip in Italy.

Public Health England sent letters to school headteachers at the end of February, prompting them promote to self-isolation, in line with the general public, should any cases be identified.

Schools are breeding grounds for viruses. Children appear to suffer less severe symptoms with this new strain, yet they can bring the virus back to their parents or vulnerable family members. Schools in Poland are set to close on Monday next week, despite the country experiencing a relatively low number of confirmed coronavirus cases, and no deaths.

Confusing government guidance

The government states we are still in the "containment" phase of this epidemic, meaning that measures to limit social interaction are not yet being considered.

According to Wired, the confusion surrounding school closures comes from a 2011 document titled “influenza pandemic preparedness strategy”. This document, by Department of Health, bans the idea of cancelling large scale events or travel, but is vague on school closures.

The document states that officials should “consider enhancing public health measures to disrupt local transmission of the virus as appropriate, such as localised school closures based on public health risk assessment”.

The UK petition to close schools has already gathered over 240,000 signatures, well over the 10,000 needed for parliament to recognise it and respond - and over the 100,000 for parliament to debate it.