Robert Halfon, chairman of the powerful Commons Education Select Committee, urged Boris Johnson to use the full “engine of Government” to “get our schools open again after February half term”. Mr Halfon said a back-to-school programme should begin in areas of the country with lower numbers of coronavirus cases rather than waiting for a national reopening.
His comments came amid growing fears some children in areas with high Covid-19 rates will not be allowed to return to class until May.
The Harlow MP said: “Long after the coronavirus has gone our younger children could be mired in ditch of educational poverty, a mental health crises and safeguarding hazards because of the damage of school closures.
“The engine of Government should be directed to do everything possible to get our schools open again after February half term – as was stated previously by the Prime Minister.
“If there are areas of the country with low Covid rates, there should be no reason not to open the schools.
“As the Deputy Chief Medical Officer said to our Education committee recently, teachers and support staff are at no greater risk than any other profession, nor is there evidence that schools are significant transmitters of the virus.”
Mr Halfon’s calls to get children back in school came after Health Secretary Matt Hancock warned the lifting of lockdown rules in England remains a “long, long, long way” off despite another record day in the rollout of the vaccine programme.
Government figures showed 491,970 people across the UK received their first dose on Saturday, taking the total to more than 6.3 million.
Some Tory MPs have been looking to early March – once the effects of the vaccine have had a chance to kick in – as a date when restrictions could begin lifting.
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But Mr Hancock warned that while the vaccination programme was making “brilliant progress”, it was too early to consider any relaxation with the NHS still under intense pressure from the Covid case numbers.
He said: “There is early evidence that the lockdown is starting to bring cases down but we are a long, long, long way from being low enough because the case rate was incredibly high.
“You can see the pressure on the NHS – you can see it every day.”
The Government said a further 610 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of today, bringing the UK total to 97,939.
Separate figures published by the UK’s statistics agencies for deaths where Covid-19 has been mentioned on the death certificate, together with additional data on deaths that have occurred in recent days, show there have now been 114,000 deaths involving Covid-19 in the UK.
The Government also said that, as of 9am today, there had been a further 30,004 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK.
It brings the total number of cases in the UK to 3,647,463.