Mayor Sadiq Khan calls for schools to close early

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LONDON: London’s mayor Sadiq Khan has urged the government to ask all secondary schools and colleges in the capital to shut early ahead of Christmas. In a letter to ministers, Sadiq Khan said he also wanted schools to reopen later in January amid “significant” Covid outbreaks in 10 to 19-year-olds. It comes as the BBC was told London was likely to move into tier three.

Greenwich and Islington councils are the first in England to urge schools to switch this week to online learning.

Council officials in Greenwich have advised schools to shut from the end of Monday, although some academies will remain open, while Islington schools have been asked to move online from the end of Tuesday.

A spokesman for the Department for Education said it was “vital” children remained in school until the end of term.

The prime minister’s official spokesman said not being in school had “a detrimental impact on learning and other areas of pupils’ development”.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan

Regional school commissioner teams were working closely with local authorities to” keep schools open and keep pupils and staff safe,” he added. Mr Khan described the surge in Covid-19 cases in London “deeply concerning” and that in the last week, there had been a 75% increase in those aged 10-19 testing positive for the virus.

He said “if the government isn’t careful these children will pass on the virus to really vulnerable people because the rules are relaxed” over Christmas. “My message to the government is if you can’t keep the schools Covid safe in the last few days before Christmas, it’s better to err on the side of caution and revert to online teaching for these few days.”

In the letter, also sent to the prime minister, he said he wanted regular asymptomatic testing to be extended to everyone who could not work form home as well as students and staff at London’s secondary schools, sixth-form college and further education colleges.

He has also called for face coverings to be made mandatory in busy outdoor public spaces, “given the numbers on our high streets in the run-up to Christmas”.

“The rollout of the vaccine has provided some light at the end of what has been a very dark tunnel, but this is no time to be complacent and we cannot let so many months of compromise and sacrifice go to waste,” he said.

Mr Khan said if London went into further restrictions, the current financial support offered by the government would be “insufficient to keep many businesses and the self-employed afloat”.

He warned if the capital moved to tier three, UK Hospitality predicted £2.7bn could be wiped off London’s hospitality industry, with 160,000 jobs permanently at risk. “Theatres and venues in London have begun to reopen, many for the first time since March and after making their venues as safe as possible,” he wrote.