But Professor Sridhar raised concerns about the government’s plan to reopen all primary and secondary schools in England on March 8. Scotland, she noted, was opening schools on a staggered schedule to assess the effects of students mixing in classrooms. The first set of pupils went back on Monday.
“We anticipate it will be bumpy even with a graduated return,” she said. “Sending older kids back into classrooms is dangerous.”
Teachers’ unions immediately objected to the plan, saying it would put their members at risk and urging Mr. Johnson to adopt the graduated approach of Scotland, which is also being used in Wales and Northern Ireland.
“A big bang school reopening brings 10 million people back into crowded buildings with no social distancing and inadequate ventilation,” Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said in a statement.
The opposition Labour Party has called for teachers to be given priority in vaccinations. But the government has rejected this, saying that, statistically, teachers are no more at risk from the virus than others in the same age groups.
Under Mr. Johnson’s timetable, the current restrictions would be lifted in four steps, with five weeks between most of the steps. That way, the government would have four weeks to analyze the impact of each relaxation and another week to give notice of the changes to the public and businesses.
All the moves would be made throughout England, with no return to the regional differences in rules that applied last year, depending on local infection rates. The government warned that the dates specified are the earliest at which the restrictions would be lifted, and that the steps may happen later.