Health Secretary says 'there are no guarantees' schools will stay open

Schools could SHUT AGAIN in January if Omicron spirals out of control as Health Secretary Sajid Javid warns ‘there are no guarantees’ in the fight against the Covid pandemic

  • Health secretary said ‘there are no guarantees’ schools will stay open in January 
  • First Omicron cases were found in schools last week as some closed short-term
  • Education secretary Nadhim Zahawi has also refused to rule out school closures
  • Campaigners say ministers have a ‘moral duty’ to keep schools open over winter 

The health secretary has refused to rule out school closures in January as the Government continues its battle to control the spread of Omicron cases.

Sajid Javid said he did not want children to go back to learning from home after Christmas as he urged the nation to sign up for their booster jabs but said ‘there are no guarantees’ schools would be open.

Asked on LBC whether this remained a possibility, Mr Javid said: ‘Well, I don’t want to see that or any of these kinds of measures. I’m just going to focus on everything else we need to be doing, especially the booster programme.’

He added: ‘I’d say this… if you are asking me for guarantees, I will just say – as the Health Secretary, of course, I’m not the Education Secretary – as the Health Secretary, that there are, when it comes to our fight against this pandemic, there are no guarantees.

‘But what we do know that works is, in this case, a booster shot of the vaccine.’

It comes as campaigners say ministers have ‘a moral duty’ to keep schools open over winter. 

The health secretary Sajid Javid (pictured) has refused to rule out school closures in January as the Government continues its battle to control the spread of Omicron cases across the country

The health secretary’s comments echo those made by the education secretary yesterday who also offered no guarantee that schools would still be open in the new year.

Nadhim Zahawi said the Government was still learning about the variant and that it was trying to ensure schools were protected but offered no guarantee schools would still be open in the New Year.  

Asked by the BBC’s Andrew Marr if he could make the promise that schools won’t close, he said: ‘We are absolutely working to make sure that all schools are open, that they’re protected.

‘I will do everything in my power. We are still learning about this variant. We know that a booster works.

‘Get boosted, protect yourself, protect your community and let’s get through this and transition this from pandemic to endemic.’

An Omicron Covid-19 case was reported in a primary school for the first time last week.

Many individual schools have closed early for Christmas in defiance of Whitehall advice and it is understood several local authorities are considering similar moves to curb Omicron cases

All year five students, aged nine or ten, at Manor Community Primary School in Kent, were advised to stay home and get tested.

Those who are unvaccinated and come into close contact with a person who has been infected with Omicron must self-isolate for 10 days.

As of tomorrow, people who are fully vaccinated and identified as a contact of someone with Covid – whether Omicron or not – should take an NHS rapid lateral flow test every day for 7 days to help slow the spread, the Government said this weekend. 

Pupils’ parents received an email informing them of the situation and a mobile testing unit was dispatched to the school in Keary Road on Friday.

As a precaution, the UK Health Security Agency is carrying out testing on some pupils in key stage two groups. 

The news came days after another Omicron case was confirmed at nearby Northfleet Technology College. 

Health experts fear the Omicron variant could be more contagious than other strains, although it is understood the vaccine remains effective at preventing severe symptoms and hospitalisation in most cases. 

Yesterday, the UK reported another 1,239 confirmed cases of the Omicron variant – an increase of 65 per cent over 24 hours.


The case numbers – which take the total number of Omicron cases in the UK to 3,137 – marked the highest daily rise and more than double the previous record, which was set on Saturday. 

Fearing a rise in Omicron infections, new coronavirus restrictions have come into force around the country as part of the government’s Plan B to tackle the virus over the winter period.

Many individual schools have closed early for Christmas in defiance of Whitehall advice, with some citing their own Covid outbreaks and a lack of staff.

It is thought a number of local authorities are considering similar moves in a bid to curb Omicron cases. 

Last month, Darwen Aldridge Enterprise Studio, a secondary school which teaches pupils aged 13 to 19, said that it was shuttering its doors temporarily due to teachers being off with Covid.

The education secretary Nadhim Zahawi (pictured arriving at Broadcasting House yesterday) has also refused to rule out school closures in the new year

And Finlay Community Primary School in Gloucestershire said it was partially closing – with pupils in reception moving to online learning – due to ‘an increase in Covid-19 cases’ and ‘low staffing levels’. 

Among the schools closed for Christmas are Abbots Green Academy and Sybil Andrews Academy in Bury St Edmonds, Suffolk.

Pupils have switched to online learning and it is not known if they will return in January in-person yet.  

Other schools cancelled nativities and Christmas festivities amidst growing concern over the highly transmissible Omicron variant.

It comes as a public health chief called for an extension of the school holiday to act as a ‘firebreak’ against Covid.

Professor Dominic Harrison, director of public health for Blackburn with Darwen, said adding a week either side of the two-week break could reduce transmission to ‘vulnerable family members’ and protect schools in the New Year.

A firebreak, he said, would be the best way to contain Omicron after the Centre for Mathematical Modelling of Infectious Diseases had found the strain will have a ‘very significant impact’ on schools.

His proposal was echoed by a senior leader of the National Education Union whose members are unhappy at being exposed to pupils with Covid.

But yesterday campaigners urged councils to keep schools open.

Molly Kingsley, of parent group UsForThem, said: ‘Schools are quite literally essential for children. Closing them is nothing short of a moral crime.

‘Just as it would be inconceivable to close power stations, hospitals, essential retail, it must be inconceivable to close schools.’

Lib Dem education spokesman Munira Wilson said of Mr Zahawi’s remarks: ‘This failure to provide a cast-iron guarantee just about says it all about this Government and their priorities.

‘Time and time again, our children have been badly let down by the Government’s inability to get on top of Covid.’ 

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