Western Morning News

After grim news of 100,000 deaths, hopes rise for lockdown’s end

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AFTER the sad and sobering milestone of 100,000 coronaviru­s deaths, Prime Minister Boris Johnson attempted a bit of cheerier news yesterday, with a half-promise that schools could be back open to all pupils by March 8.

After making himself a hostage to fortune too many times in this pandemic – for the best of reasons in trying to give everyone some hope through the tears – Boris has become a good deal more circumspec­t.

The new variant of coronaviru­s dashed hopes of a brighter start to 2021 which is one reason for the Government’s extreme caution. But aiming for the second week in March to send children back to the classroom looks to be achievable, although we have seen such plans knocked off course before in this crisis.

March 8 is still some time away and if it takes that long to ensure the risks have been sufficient­ly reduced to begin to ease the lockdown then the amount of schooling missed by a majority will be substantia­l.

It was, however, the correct call to close schools when the government did and it is right to keep them shut until a definite reversal in Covid rates has been recorded over several weeks.

Throughout this pandemic politician­s have been eager to repeat the reassuranc­es that children are at almost no risk from the disease. But as a reason to keep schools operating, that tells only a part of the story.

School staff can be infected, from children who may be carriers, from other staff members and from parents. In addition opening schools brings with it the journey to and from the classroom and the opportunit­y for other mixing of households. Add all of that together and there is – as the scientists acknowledg­e – a significan­t risk for more infections.

A case can be made to add teachers to the list of essential workers who should be given the coronaviru­s vaccine, but it is hard to argue with the current vaccinatio­n roll-out and its concentrat­ion on getting jabs into those sections of the population who would otherwise cause the biggest drain on the NHS and almost certainly add to the death figures.

Mr Johnson said he takes full responsibi­lity for the decisions of Government through the pandemic and the impact those decisions have had on the number who lost lives.

He has, quite properly, refrained from attempting any detailed justificat­ion of policies at this point. There will be time enough for inquests into why the UK has seen some of the worst death rates of any developed nation. Similar restraint in apportioni­ng blame for the deaths has, unfortunat­ely, not been universal across the political spectrum. It is one thing to raise concerns about the handling of this crisis; it is quite another to hijack the deaths of 100,000 people for political ends, which some have come perilously close to doing.

The reasons for Britain’s high death toll are many and various. Some problems around underlying health conditions and poor public services date back decades ago. They need to be unravelled and the full story exposed. Now, however, is not the time.

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