Downing Street confirms schools won't break up early for Christmas amid Omicron fears

29 November 2021, 12:35 | Updated: 29 November 2021, 13:38

Downing Street has confirmed schools will not break up for the Christmas holidays early
Downing Street has confirmed schools will not break up for the Christmas holidays early. Picture: Alamy

By Megan Hinton

Downing Street has confirmed schools will not break up for the Christmas holidays early as concerns rise over new Covid-19 variant Omicron.

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Boris Johnson has rejected calls from unions to close schools early after it was revealed the new Omicron variant had been detected in the UK.

But today the Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said classrooms were the "best place" for pupils to be whilst the PM's spokesman confirmed that closing schools early was "not something we are looking to do".

The Prime Minister's spokesman said children would not be exempt from isolating for 10 days after coming into contact with the new coronavirus variant.

Asked if children could be made exempt, he said: "That's not what we are proposing. We believe our measures strike the balance between keeping children in face-to-face learning while ensuring education settings remain as safe as possible while we investigate this new variant.

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"As I've said before, education remains one of our top priorities. So obviously we'll keep all measures under review."

The spokesman added that the Government was not looking to close schools early for Christmas.

"We've seen how disruptive some of the restrictions can be and we've always taken steps to keep schools open until we have absolutely no other choice," he said.

The Government has also said they are not asking schools to cancel nativity plays in the coming weeks despite the emergence of the new Omicron variant of coronavirus.

Health minister Edward Argar said festive plays in school are "important to young people who've had a rough time" during the Covid-19 pandemic.

His comments came as a poll suggested that more than one in four (27 per cent) primary school teachers have said their school is only planning to run nativity shows online this year.

Read more: Omicron: Symptoms, cases, and what we know so far

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It comes after pupils in year seven and above have been told to wear face masks in communal areas to curb the spread of coronavirus.

Essex County Council implemented "precautionary action", including testing of pupils and remote learning for one class at Larchwood Primary School in Brentwood after a link was found with the new Omicron strain.

The Prime Minister's spokesman said the Government's approach to mask-wearing in public spaces was "proportionate".

On why the Government had not decided to make masks mandatory in pubs and restaurants, the spokesman said: "We believe that this is a measured and proportionate approach based on the evidence that we have so far.

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"It appears likely but not certain this variant is more transmissible than previous variants, but we don't have any hard evidence and indeed no one has any hard evidence on its impact on things like hospitalisations and deaths and individuals that are vaccinated.

"So we think that this is the proportionate approach to take in the current circumstances."

Asked if the reason for the decision was that people need to use to public transport and go to shops, while use of pubs and nightclubs is more voluntary, the spokesman added: "People will be using public transport, obviously people will be going into shops where there are crowded spaces, and there are particular challenges around hospitality with regards to people eating and drinking, which the minister talked about this morning."