Government risks second COVID-19 spike if schools re-open says SAGE

Government risks second COVID-19 spike if schools re-open says SAGE
© iStock/lakshmiprasad S

The independent SAGE committee has stated that schools should not re-open on June 1 because there is ‘no clear evidence’ that it is safe to do so.

The committee of independent scientists, SAGE, chaired by Sir David King, the former Chief Scientific Advisor, has released a ‘draft consultation report’ which says that schools should not re-open until local ‘test, track, and isolate’ systems for COVID-19 infections are in place. The Independent SAGE committee was set up Sir David King separately from the Government’s official group of advisors following transparency concerns.

‘There is no clear evidence that these conditions are met. Until they are it is not safe to open schools on 1 June,’ the report says.

The committee is holding a public engagement today which will be live streamed on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter at 12pm, in association with the British Medical Journal and Mumsnet, to take questions from the public including parents, teachers, union representatives, children, and other interested parties.

Minimising risk of infection

According to new modelling, the risk of infection for children is halved if school re-openings are delayed by two weeks, and a delay until September reduces the risk to below road traffic accident level.

The report notes that further modelling is needed to show regional risks and that it intends to do so before issuing its final recommendations to the Government next week.

Harm to children from schools remaining closed and the disproportionate impact on certain groups, including economically disadvantaged children and those from black and minority ethnic (BAME) communities, is also highlighted in the report.

The committee has proposed that summer camps and open-air schools could offer a solution and suggests requisitioning independent school buildings and playing fields to ‘provide a better infection control environment’, as well as using football stadiums and other sports facilities.

Sir David King said: “It is clear from the evidence we have collected that 1 June is simply too early to go back. By going ahead with this dangerous decision, the government is further risking the health of our communities and the likelihood of a second spike.

“However, we also recognise that the decision of when to re-open our schools is a careful balance and that it is vital for our young people to get back into the classroom as soon as it is safe to do so. The current climate is likely to disproportionately affect the most disadvantaged in society; therefore, it is vital that the government also considers innovative ways to help those who need it most.”

Consulting the public

The decision to re-open schools must be taken at a local level, and the report recommends it is done with full public consultation.

It states that the best indicators of risk from any future school outbreaks is local infection and death rates, and that real-time data about test, track and isolate is essential, noting that, ‘it is inevitable in a pandemic that new outbreaks will occur’ and that ‘planning for such re-closure is essential’.

‘The crucial factor allowing school re-openings around the world has been the presence of well-functioning local test, trace, and isolate protocols — something that is now accepted will not be in place in England by early June,’ the report says, and notes that schools opening in other countries, such as Denmark, ‘has been preceded by substantial investment in measures such as additional washing facilities to promote safety.’


  1. The group that you’re talking about in this article isn’t the official SAGE. It is a group of Labour-backing scientists and politicians. The official SAGE group said that it is perfectly safe to reopen schools.

  2. I heard Sir David King talking on BBC2 news today and thought “at last someone who is talking good common sense science!”
    He specifically described the only safe way to get out of lock down is to test, track and isolate anyone who tests positive (given that a vaccine may be some time away). He mentioned the folly of the way this government is doing things centrally and not using the expertise in Public Health/GPs locally , who are experienced. They rather set up a private body centrally and “train up ” thousands of inexperienced people. He mentioned that some other coutries are using hotels dedicated to putting up those in isolation, with support systems such as those for food and medical supplies.
    Such a local, methodical strategy would I believe be successful and would re-assure the public, rather than the seemingly ad hoc strategy that does not re-assure and now seems to be driven by economic concerns (and panic) rather than concerns about individuals’ health. On the subject of economics it seems that a lot of money has already been wasted (e.g. an app that is not working as it should; Nightingale hospitals set up but not really required – I’m sure there are more examples, because the government has not been heeding the advice of the “right science”?
    The inability to engage with the “local” and carry on “centrally” seems a recurring misguided approach to dealing with such a pandemic.


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