Downing Street denies Chris Whitty felt ‘very unhappy’ about plans for a ‘big bang’ reopening


Is a scientists rebellion brewing over plan to ease lockdown? Downing Street denies Chris Whitty is ‘very unhappy’ and clashed with Boris over plans for a ‘big bang’ reopening of schools on March 8

  • Downing Street knocked down claims Chris Whitty worried about a full return
  • Boris Johnson made it clear he wants ten million schoolchildren back March 8
  • Education sources told The Guardian Mr Whitty was ‘very unhappy’ with this
  • Officials fear a mass return will increase infection rates and create problems 

The Government was forced to deny last night that Chris Whitty felt ‘very unhappy’ about plans for a ‘big bang’ reopening of schools on March 8.

Downing Street knocked down claims that the chief medical officer had concerns that a full return – rather than the staggered approach called for by unions – would cause a spike in infections.

Boris Johnson has made it clear that he wants all ten million schoolchildren and staff to return on March 8.

But education sources told The Guardian Mr Whitty was ‘very unhappy’ with this.

Downing Street knocked down claims that the chief medical officer had concerns that a full return – rather than the staggered approach called for by unions – would cause a spike in infections. Pictured, Chris Whitty

Some officials fear a mass return will increase infection rates and create problems administering pupils’ Covid tests.

Ministers and senior advisers want Mr Whitty to back a full return publicly, but he is said to be ‘lukewarm’.

Last night, a Department for Education source branded the claim ‘absolute b******t’, and a Government source also said it was ‘categorically untrue’.

The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), which advises the Government, has modelled the impact of sending all children back at once against a staggered, year-by-year approach.

It believes the first option will lead to a bigger rise in the so-called ‘R value’ – which measures how quickly the virus will spread. But it insists ministers must weigh up the risks against pupils’ wellbeing.

Officials including Mr Whitty have repeatedly stressed the damage to children of being forced to stay at home.

The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), which advises the Government, has modelled the impact of sending all children back at once against a staggered, year-by-year approach. Pictured, children arriving at Manor Park School in Cheshire last month

The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), which advises the Government, has modelled the impact of sending all children back at once against a staggered, year-by-year approach. Pictured, children arriving at Manor Park School in Cheshire last month

Unions want a phased return. Nine organisations representing teachers, heads, support staff and governors united to warn against the Prime Minister’s plan. They said getting all children back at once on March 8 seemed a ‘reckless action’ that could ‘trigger another spike in Covid infections, prolong the disruption of education and risk throwing away hard-won progress made in suppressing the virus’.

In a statement, they called on the Prime Minister to only commit to the March 8 date if the scientific evidence was ‘absolutely clear that this is safe’, and he should ‘go no further than a phased return’.

Mr Johnson is due to set out a roadmap out of lockdown on Monday. But Geoff Barton, of the Association of School and College Leaders, wrote on the Times Educational Supplement website to urge caution rather than ‘risking a big bang that could blow up in our faces’.

A Department for Education spokesman said: ‘Schools are the best place for young people’s education, development and wellbeing. Pupils will return from March 8 at the earliest.’ 

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