Boris Johnson has warned he is ready to impose tougher measures to contain the spread of Covid-19, including school closures, in a grim New Years interview.
Mr Johnson said he was ‘reconciled to do the right thing’, admitting the country faced a rocky start until 2021 as the virus continued to spread and vaccines were not rolled out that gradually.
The Prime Minister said if schools are safe it may be necessary to shut them down to control the spread of the virus in parts of England that are at level 4 – a designation that already affects 78% of the population.
“The question is, can we get the virus under control and keep schools open?” Mr Johnson said in an interview with the BBC’s Andrew Marr. “We will keep things under constant surveillance.”
He said shutting down schools was “not something we necessarily want to do,” but added: “We are all in favor of doing whatever it takes to bring down the virus. This could involve stricter measures in the coming weeks.
Mr Johnson said ministers were reviewing whether the Level 4 measures were tough enough to control the virus; the Prime Minister refused to use the term “level 5”, but that is how it is likely to be perceived.
Level 4 includes strict social restrictions, closure of non-essential businesses, and advice on working from home; the big difference between Tier 4 and the March 2019 lockdown is that ministers tried to keep schools open.
However, Mr Johnson is already taking tougher action on schools. On New Years Day, in a policy reversal, the government decided to keep all primary schools in London closed on January 4, after planning to keep them open in 10 boroughs known to have lower infection rates.
Primary schools in London and other parts of southern England will therefore remain closed until January 18; Secondary schools and colleges are expected to remain closed for most pupils in England – except those studying for exams – until the same date.
But the government faced a revolt from teachers over the weekend as the National Education Union advised elementary school members to remain open to work from their homes as it would be “dangerous” to do so. go back to work.
Separately, the two main managers’ unions have launched legal action against the government, challenging the scientific basis of its decisions and demanding distance education during the first two weeks of the mandate.
Mr Johnson’s aides insist the government is sticking to its policy of holding GCSEs and A-level exams in England this summer, despite the disruption to schooling.
The prime minister said the use of mass testing in secondary schools “would make a big difference”. Primary schools across most of England are due to return on Monday.