Concern pupils returning to school would ‘let coronavirus genie out of bottle’
Liam Randall, local democracy reporter
Concerns have been raised that allowing pupils to return to school would be like “letting the genie out of the bottle” by aiding the spread of the coronavirus.
Wrexham Council has adopted a cautious approach to reopening schools as infection rates in the area remain the highest in Wales.
The Welsh Government recently announced that schools nationally could start to open their doors for children aged three to seven from Monday, 22 February.
In Wrexham, that date has been pushed back until Friday, 26 February at the very earliest and will depend on how levels of Covid-19 are looking locally after half-term.
Education officials said their priority was to keep people safe and pledged to keep the situation under review.
And with new mutations of the virus emerging, including the South African variant, a co-opted member of the council’s lifelong learning scrutiny committee has urged it to continue to be careful about reopening schools.
Speaking at a virtual meeting held yesterday (Thursday, 11 February), Brent Evans said: “I have close family and very good friends who work as consultants, doctors and frontline staff in the NHS and are working 16 or 17 hours a day at the moment treating patients with this terrible illness.
“If the South African variant jumps out as with the genie jumping out of the bottle, do you foresee any problems in terms of knockback from schools?
“Children don’t seem to catch these illnesses, but they can transmit and take it back to homes and grandparents.
“I’m conscious whether opening schools is going to let the genie out again.”
The council has said that headteachers will share more detailed information with parents and carers after the half-term holiday, once coronavirus levels have been reviewed.
If pupils do return to school in the coming weeks, people are being asked to follow the rules by choosing not to car share when picking up or collecting children and avoiding gathering at the school gates.
Parents have also been urged to ensure youngsters from different households do not meet outside of school.
Officers said they were hopeful that the twice weekly testing of teachers would help to stop any outbreaks.
Education officer Dafydd Ifans said: “We’re obviously concerned about the wellbeing of our staff, and particularly staff going back after half term to support the foundation phase.
“What is going to be different is the fact that we’ve got the availability of these lateral flow tests, which won’t pick up the variants.
“But what they will do is if there’s a positive test, then they would referred for a PCR test, and then we would know whether we’ve seen any kind of major uptick in the variants within the community.
“Hopefully, it will mean that where we are picking up cases, then we’re going to be able to react more quickly.”