UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that it was "vitally important" for children to return to classrooms, with the life chances of a generation at stake, it was reported on Monday. Separate guidance for reopening schools has been published for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the BBC reported.
In Scotland, schools have already reopened, while some students in Northern Ireland will return to school on Monday. In England and Wales, in-person classes are set to begin in September. In a statement released on Sunday evening, Johnson thanked school staff for spending the summer "making classrooms COVID-secure".
"I have previously spoken about the moral duty to reopen schools to all pupils safely," he said. "We have always been guided by our scientific and medical experts, and we now know far more about coronavirus than we did earlier this year."
Being Away from School is Damaging for Children
Echoing England's chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty remarks, Johnson said that "the risk of contracting COVID-19 in school is very small and it is far more damaging for a child's development and their health and wellbeing to be away from school any longer".
"This is why it's vitally important that we get our children back into the classroom to learn and to be with their friends. Nothing will have a greater effect on the life chances of our children than returning to school," the BBC quoted Johnson as saying in the statement.
Speaking to the BBC on Sunday, Whitty said that children were more likely to be harmed by not returning to school next month than if they caught coronavirus. He cited evidence of children "much less commonly" needing hospital treatment or becoming severely ill with coronavirus than adults.
Education Secretary Assures Safety
According to the Office for National Statistics' latest data on ages, there were 10 deaths recorded as "due to COVID-19" among those aged 19 and under in England and Wales between March and June - and 46,725 deaths among those aged 20 and over.
Of the more than one million children who attended pre-school and primary schools in England in June, 70 children and 128 staff were infected in outbreaks of the virus, according to a Public Health England study published on Sunday.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson wrote in the Sunday Times that he wanted to reassure every parent and pupil schools were "ready for them", and the autumn return to schools was "more important than ever".