After the good news about the new Oxford/Astra Zeneca vaccine (first person vaccinated in Oxford today) we have just had the bad news that the continuing exponential rise in COVID cases across the country has forced a third national lockdown and the closure of schools until the February half term.
The Government has set itself the target of vaccinating all vulnerable people (13.5 million) by the second week of February. With the Oxford/Astra Zeneca vaccine now available in addition to the Pzifzer vaccine this does seem like an ambitious yet realistic target.
As many of you will know, during this pandemic I have been vocal in stating that we should all do everything necessary to keep kids in school, they should be the last to close, first to open. As someone who sits on the Education Select Committee, I've found it depressing seeing every week how it's generally been children from disadvantaged backgrounds who lost out from the previous school closures the most. Between now and the February half term the Government needs to move heaven and earth to minimise the damage caused by these closures and to ensure that the damage that was done last time isn't compounded and I will be using my position on the Education Select Committee to make sure this is the case.
I agree with the comments made over the weekend by the Chief Inspector for Ofsted and the Children's Commissioner, we cannot "furlough" our children's futures and steps should be taken that first-class online learning is providing to all.
Having said this, I absolutely understand why many teachers within Ipswich have been so anxious about heading back to school at a time when COVID cases have been ballooning and I also understand why many parents have been anxious about their kids going back to school. Yes young people themselves are extremely unlikely to suffer greatly at all if they themselves catch COVID but they are likely to pass it on to either their teachers or to take it home with them and its very likely that this could result in someone vulnerable to the virus catching it.
Ultimately it's been an extremely difficult decision and I completely understand why the Government have been so reluctant to take it but when there is a clear end goal in site, I understand why they've taken it.
The sad reality that is that though closing schools for the best part of six weeks will have negative consequences for many young people, schools themselves at this time do make a contribution to the virus spreading and if we do want to contain this spread ahead of the most vulnerable being vaccinated to safe lives then closing schools for a limited period of time does seem to be the only real option left to the Government.
Addressing the issues that have arisen as a result of school closures during the pandemic needs to be a national priority over the coming years because it will take years to address the problem.
Being in tier 4 a lot won't really change that much by going into this national lockdown. Cases in Ipswich continue to grow significantly every week (now over 500 cases per 100,000) and this is putting significant pressure on our local Hospital (if anyone doubts this I would talk to many of the people who work there, I have).
It's very unfortunate that this new strain of the virus that is so highly transmissible has reared it's head just as we're beginning to see that bright light at the end of the tunnel get so much brighter as a result of progress in relation to the new vaccines. The reality is that if the Government hit their targets in relation to the vaccination process then by the end of February we could be in a radically different place and I for one hope they're successful.
In the meantime, for all of us, the next 6 weeks or so will be very difficult but I would encourage everyone to continue following the rules and to work together to control the spread of this virus and to save lives.