Prime Minister Boris Johnson addressed the nation this evening (Wed 30 Dec), reiterating an earlier announcement by Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, about the delayed return of some schools in England after the Christmas break.
Speaking just after 5pm, the Prime Minister opened with a reminder of this morning's positive news about the approval of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine for use by UK regulators. However, he then stated that the UK "must take firm action now" in order to stop the spread of Covid-19, which is currently surging in the UK.
'Schools are safe'
Johnson reassured the public that "schools are safe," but confirmed that some primary and secondary schools in areas of England where Covid rates are particularly high will not return to face to face learning as planned next week.
“In secondary schools all vulnerable children and children of critical workers will go back next week across England as originally planned, but we will ask exam year pupils in secondary to learn remotely during the first week of term and return to the classroom from January 11," he said.
“The remaining secondary school pupils – non-exam groups – will go back a week later, that is from January 18.”
It is possible, however, that these plans could change again.
“I want to stress that depending on the spread of the disease it may be necessary to take further action in their cases as well in the worst affected areas," the Prime Minister said.
According to the Press Association, these are the areas where it is expected that primary schools will not open as planned next week to all pupils:
- London - Barking and Dagenham, Barnet, Bexley, Brent, Bromley, Croydon, Ealing, Enfield, Hammersmith and Fulham, Havering, Hillingdon, Hounslow, Kensington and Chelsea, Merton, Newham, Richmond-Upon-Thames, Southwark, Sutton, Tower Hamlets, Waltham Forest, Wandsworth, Westminster
- Essex - Brentwood, Epping Forest, Castle Point, Basildon, Rochford, Harlow, Chelmsford, Braintree, Maldon, Southend on Sea, Thurrock
- Kent - Dartford, Gravesham, Sevenoaks, Medway, Ashford, Maidstone, Tonbridge and Malling, Tunbridge Wells, Swale
- East Sussex - Hastings, Rother
- Buckinghamshire - Milton Keynes
- Hertfordshire - Watford, Broxbourne, Hertsmere, Three Rivers
'See in the new year safely at home'
Nearing the end of his briefing, the Prime Minister reminded viewers that they must not host or attend New Year celebrations with other households over the coming weekend, in order to curb the spread of coronavirus infections. Instead, he said, the UK must "see in the new year safely at home."
"That means not meeting up with friends or family indoors unless in the same household or support bubble and avoiding large gatherings of any kind," he said.
'We are still in the tunnel of this pandemic'
Johnson's speech ended with a sober reminder that, while the approval of vaccines has shown a way out of the pandemic, "we are still in the tunnel of this pandemic."
"The tunnel has been shortened, or we're moving faster through it," the Prime Minister said, but stressed that Covid restrictions still must be strictly followed.
"No-one regrets these measures more bitterly than I do, but we must take firm action now," Johnson said.
"Let's redouble our efforts."