Ifan Morgan Jones
As the father of four children, I should be the last one to call for the schools to close.
As well as wanting my children to have a good education and see their friends, being able to concentrate for any length of time on work is often dependent on having them out of the house…
But at the moment it feels a lot like March – I know a full lockdown is coming, the stats show that a full lockdown is coming, every man and his dog seems to know it’s coming, but there’s no official announcement.
To their credit the Welsh Government have put Wales under quite a firm lockdown for the last two weeks – Christmas excepted. But the plan is still for staff and children to return to school this week and next.
Tellingly, Health Minister Vaughan Gething was noncommital on the question this morning: “If the evidence changes then we’ll have to take account of that… and that may lead to a different choice.”
But it only takes a glance at the stats to see in which direction we’re heading. Cases in Wales may be going down – but they’re clearly not in parts of south-east England, where they have managed to flatten the curve, vertically.
Wales is not an island and that next wave of cases that are rippling out of London and its surroundings is going to reach us sooner rather than later. The new more transmissible strain is already believed to be behind the rapid rise in cases in the north of Wales.
What that does to our already under-strain NHS doesn’t bear thinking about.
I strongly believe that schools should be the very last thing to close. But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t close. Cases are surging, ICU’s are at or almost at capacity, and that’s before the more transmissible kind of Covid really hits us.
Another factor to consider in this decision is that a vaccine is around the corner. This makes the political calculation very different from September when we weren’t sure if locking down today was just going to delay deaths until a month down the line.
Lives saved with a lockdown now could well be lives saved, full stop, if the Welsh Government can simultaneously lock down hard enough and roll the vaccine out quickly enough.
Closing schools would also send the public a very important message about the severity of the situation, one that many people at the moment just don’t seem to be getting. Whatever the rules, a brief look outside our windows would seem to confirm that things aren’t half as ‘locked down’ as they were last year.
However, with confirmation from Scotland this morning that schools will be closed until at least February, that will surely be that. It will give the Welsh and UK Governments the political cover they need to take that final step.
Scotland has tended towards acting first through the crisis and the other nations have followed – usually Wales first, then England.
But with a Boris Johnson press conference set for 8pm tonight, Wales might even be beaten to the punch.
It feels almost inevitable that the announcement is coming. It would be a shame if it came after the majority of kids had returned, possibly negating the benefits and causing more headaches and uncertainty for children, parents, carers and teachers.
So why not just get on with it?