Boris Johnson has said the reopening of schools marks a “truly national effort” to beat coronavirus, as pupils prepare to return to classrooms across England.
The first stage of the country’s lockdown easing begins on tomorrow, with indoor visits at care homes also part of the first lifting of restrictions.
“The reopening of schools marks a truly national effort to beat this virus,” the prime minister said.
“It is because of the determination of every person in this country that we can start moving closer to a sense of normality – and it is right that getting our young people back into the classroom is the first step.”
Pupils in secondary schools across England are to receive three COVID-19 lateral-flow tests before using at-home kits twice a week.
Downing Street says nearly 57 million testing kits have been delivered to schools and colleges, and some have already begun testing students.
Pupils at Dean Close School in Cheltenham spoke to Sky News while getting tested on Saturday.
“I think it’s a good thing – it makes everyone much safer knowing who has COVID-19 and who doesn’t,” said student Luke Davis.
“The more people you test, the more cases you pick up which means you can control the spread much easier. It makes me feel more safe.”
The school’s deputy head of pastoral care, Jacquie Davis, said that despite some concerns over the reliability of the tests, they are being seen as vital to ensuring the school can stay open.
“We’ve had a number of online assemblies and talks with parents and pupils, really emphasising that fact along with reinstating social distancing, masks and sanitising – all the things we were doing before Christmas,” she said.
“These lateral flow tests are really part of our way of keeping the school open and not having to isolate children unnecessarily.”
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said Monday will “mark a moment of joy for millions of people across the country”.
“I do not underestimate how challenging the last few months have been with some children in class and most at home, but I do know how important it is for all children to be back in school, not only for their education but for their mental health and wellbeing,” he said.
In Scotland, remaining primary school children are set to return from 15 March, with the aim of all pupils being back in classrooms after Easter. A similar plan is in place in Wales.
Boris Johnson’s roadmap to recovery for England also includes an easing of visiting restrictions at care homes from Monday.
Up until now, visiting during lockdown has been restricted to outdoors or with screens. But from tomorrow, routine indoor visits will be allowed for one designated visitor, who will be tested.
It comes as welcome news for Ken Hancock, a resident at Blossom Fields Care Home in Bristol, who has so far only met his family in a special visiting pod outdoors.
“I’d be delighted. It’s been a long spell since the shutdown. I am here on my own and I’m excited,” he said.
The home’s director, Christopher Taylor, welcomed the relaxation in visiting rules, but said he has concerns about the effectiveness of the lateral flow tests and the risk of inaccurate results.
“I think we do have some reservations. We’ve been using lateral flow tests in the homes for quite a while now and we’ve seen they’re not always entirely accurate. We do have some reticence around the lateral flow tests, however they do have a place,” he said.
“Alongside the fact that all our staff and residents have had at least one vaccination, we feel more confident. I feel as time goes on and as our residents get their second vaccination, we’ll feel more confident.”
But ahead of the relaxation of rules in England, the prime minister has urged people to continue to follow the rules.
“We are being cautious in our approach so that we do not undo the progress we have made so far and I urge you all not to give up on your efforts to keep your families and others safe,” he warned.