School pupils in Leicester have been kept at home once again, after the city was made subject to the UK’s first local lockdown.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has ordered schools in the city to close to all but a small number of pupils following a surge in coronavirus cases.
He said although children were at low risk of serious harm from Covid-19, they could spread the infection.
Schools had been allowed to welcome back some year groups from 1 June.
The tighter restrictions are also affecting schools and nurseries outside the lockdown area in Leicester, with pupils told to stay away if they live within the affected area.
The Department for Education has said only vulnerable children and children of key workers could travel across the boundary in either direction for school or appointments with social workers.
Paul Galvin, head teacher of St Luke’s Primary School in Thurnby, said: “It might be difficult for families who are inside the lockdown zone – as we are just outside the boundary – especially if they are not children of critical workers.
“There are a small number of children affected at our school. I am deeply sorry for the problems this may cause parents and carers.”
He said the school had “adapted and will keep adapting to changes” during the pandemic.
Magda Raszowska, whose five-year-old daughter attends Launde Primary School in Oadby, said it was “like we’re going back to March”.
“I’m sad for my kids and sad for myself but obviously safety comes first,” she said.
Fernvale Primary School, which is outside the boundary, will no longer welcome pupils like seven-year-old Ava who lives inside the boundary.
Her parents said they felt sad their daughter was being forced to say goodbye to her friends for a second time.
Mr Hancock said: “This virus hardly impacts on children, they’re very low risk. It’s very unusual for a child to get ill with coronavirus – it’s one of the saving graces of the virus.
“We’ve sent in a lot of extra testing into Leicester and found under-18s testing positive.
“Therefore because children can transmit the disease we think the safest thing to do is to close the schools.”
Schools run by Leicester City Council were already due to close for the summer holidays on 10 July, while county council schools are due to break up on 14 July.
The city council said its schools would remain open “to vulnerable children and children of key workers until the end of term”.
“Where there is no take-up of this provision, individual schools may chose to close but will be prepared to reopen as and when required,” it said.
The local lockdown is due to be reviewed from 18 July.
A group of councillors in Birstall said they planned to request that the village was removed from the lockdown area at the next review if the county council does not provide evidence showing why it was deemed to be at risk.
Councillor Roy Rollings said: “Late last night Public Health England released a 25-page reporting setting out what’s going on in Leicester, listing the top 10 wards and where the infection areas are.
“There was not one mention of facts and figures for Birstall and the other county areas.”
National Express said its coaches would not be stopping in Leicester until 18 July at the earliest.
Commercial director John Boughton said the decision had been made “in light of government advice on essential travel”.
“We’ll keep monitoring the advice and hopefully in 15 days we can bring Leicester back into our network,” he said,
Academics and clinicians from the University of Leicester said reimposing the lockdown in Leicester represented a “failure of timely intervention” in the city.
In a letter to The Lancet medical journal, they said data on the spike in coronavirus cases was “not communicated in a timely manner”.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Social Care said the government had been “working closely with our local partners”, and added: “All councils in England now have the ability to access testing data, right down to an individual and postcode level.”
Meanwhile, the government has played down a decrease in Leicester’s coronavirus infection rate which was mentioned in a Public Health England investigation into the outbreak.
The prime minister’s official spokesman said: “The report itself shows a slight decrease but that is not considered statistically significant.
“The seven-day infection rate in Leicester is 135 cases per 100,000 people which is three times higher than the rate for the next highest city, which is Bradford.”
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