Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has said he cannot give a date for when schools will reopen following reports children could be back in the classroom in just three weeks.
Mr Williamson said he wanted ‘nothing more’ than to see children return to school but warned any relaxing of the coronavirus lockdown measures could only be taken when five key tests have been met.
It came after Michael Gove denied suggestions the Government had drawn up plans for a three-tiered relaxation of restrictions.
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The reports claimed a ‘traffic light’ strategy was about to be brought in which would see some schools and businesses allowed to reopen in mid-May.
At today’s daily briefing, Mr Williamson said: “People are anxious to know when we’re going to relax restrictions, when schools are likely to be fully back and open again.
“Of course, I want nothing more than to see schools back, get them back to normal, make sure the children are sat around learning, and experiencing the joy of being at school.
“But I can’t give you a date. Because before we do, we need to meet five tests.”
The Education Secretary reiterated the five tests first outlined by Dominic Raab on Thursday, which include protecting the NHS’s ability to cope, ensuring a drop in the daily death rates and having reliable data to show the rate of infection is decreasing to manageable levels.
The Government must also ensure sufficient testing capacity and PPE supplies, and be confident any change in the measures will not risk a second peak of infections.
Mr Williamson added: “When we can be sure that we have met these five essential points, we can think about getting children into schools again, learning, mastering new ideas and being with their friends once more.”
The number of deaths in hospitals in the UK has now topped 16,000, with thousands more expected in care homes.
The Department of Health said a total of 16,060 had died in hospitals as of 5pm on Saturday, up by 596 from the day before.
Mr Williamson also defended the Prime Minister for not attending five meetings of the key Government Cobra committee in the build-up to the coronavirus outbreak.
He said: “The Prime Minister from the moment that it became clear that there were challenges in terms of coronavirus developing in China has absolutely been leading our nation’s effort to combat the coronavirus, making sure that resources or money is not a concern for any department, especially the health service.
“The focus the Prime Minister was putting on this and has continued to put on this has meant that this is the whole Government effort.”
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