More than 24 million people in England are now living under the highest Tier 4 restrictions following the emergence of a new highly infectious mutant strain of COVID-19. Coronavirus infections are increasing, on average, by more than 30,000 per day and deaths in the UK have now surpassed 70,000 since the start of the pandemic – prompting experts to warn schools may also have to close to prevent the spread of the virus.
Amid the rising number of cases in the country, Express.co.uk is asking readers in our exclusive poll, “Should schools reopen in January despite new coronavirus strain?”
The Government has made it a priority to keep schools open ever since they were forced to close during the very first lockdown in March.
The Prime Minister has already announced plans for a staggered return for secondary school students during the first week back in January to help with a mass testing programme.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson is understood to be under mounting pressure to reconsider the plans.
Mr Williamson will hold a crunch meeting with his inner circle and medical chiefs on Monday to outline a plan for the next term.
A source close to Mr Williamson told the Sunday Telegraph: “Gavin is trying to keep them open, which is why he rolled out the testing stuff early.
“He’s facing an enormous battle.”
A report released earlier this week by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine estimated the new strain of the virus was 56 percent more transmissible.
It also says the current lockdown restrictions are “unlikely” to reduce the coronavirus R rate below one unless primary, secondary and universities are shut.
The report says: “Our estimates suggest that control measures of a similar stringency to the national lockdown implemented in England in November 2020 are unlikely to reduce the effective reproduction number rate to less than 1, unless primary schools, secondary schools, and universities are also closed.
“We project that large resurgences of the virus are likely to occur following easing of control measures.
“It may be necessary to greatly accelerate vaccine roll-out to have an appreciable impact in suppressing the resulting disease burden.”
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The areas joining London and much of the south-east of England include Sussex, Oxfordshire, Suffolk, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire, parts of Essex not yet in the highest tier, Waverley in Surrey and Hampshire, with the exception of the New Forest.
Tier 4 restrictions include a warning to stay at home, a limit on household mixing to two people outdoors and force the closure of many shops, hairdressers and gyms.
The measures come on top of Tier 3 restrictions such as the closure of pubs and restaurants except for takeaways and deliveries.