Fri, 08 Jan 2021
NEWBURY MP Laura Farris has defended the Prime Minister’s belated decision to close primary schools, claiming it was “the very last decision he wanted to take”.
Boris Johnson announced the decision on the evening of Monday, January 4, even though thousands of primary schools had already reopened, and many others were preparing to open the following day.
The day before that announcement, he said “schools are safe” and “the risk to kids is really very, very small”, when he was interviewed on BBC's The Andrew Marr Show.
He has been criticised for not making the decision during the Christmas break, when infection rates were soaring and teachers and education unions were claiming it would not be safe to reopen schools in January.
Ms Farris claims the Prime Minister did not want to shut the schools, but on Monday he was presented with stark statistics on the surge in Covid-19 hospital admissions that “left him with no choice”.
“I think the Prime Minister really, really, really, really didn’t want to close schools for all the reasons he gave on the Andrew Marr show and all the ones that have been aired in the House of Commons repeatedly about entrenching disadvantage, educational attainment, mental health and child protection,” the Tory MP told BBC Radio 5 Live.
“Those are powerful reasons.
“It is also the case that during the last lockdown in November, the schools remained open and yet the rate of infection fell nationally.
“I think there was an ambition that could be achieved again.
“All the schools have gone to so many lengths to make themselves Covid secure and schools are still taking key worker kids and vulnerable kids, so there are still quite a lot of kids in school.”
Ms Farris added: “The reason it was made at the 11th hour is because it was the very last decision he wanted to take, but in the end the data left him with no choice.”
West Berkshire has seen a worrying spike in Covid-19 cases since the second national lockdown was lifted.
When that lockdown ended, West Berkshire had one of the lowest seven-day infection rates (54.9 cases per 100,000) in the country.
It has now reached 402.5 cases per 100,000, after 676 people tested positive for the virus in one week, and public health experts believe the surge has been caused by the new, more infectious strain of the virus.
Almost one in six people (16.2 per cent) people who are tested for Covid-19 in West Berkshire are now testing positive. At the beginning of December is was around one in 25.
There are now more than 200 Covid-19 patients at the Royal Berkshire Hospital and staff have had to create additional capacity in the intensive care unit.