UK hits daily virus record; teachers unions call for schools to stay closed

LONDON — With daily coronavirus infections surging as a result of a new virus variant, the British government is facing mounting pressure from teachers’ unions to keep schools in England closed for at least another two weeks.

The government, which oversees schools in England, has already decided to keep all schools in London closed next week to try to stem new infections. Unions want the policy extended across the whole of England, expressing fears about the health of both teachers and children.

The UK today hits a daily record for new coronavirus infections — 57,725 — and according to figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University has overtaken Italy once again to be the worst-hit country in Europe with nearly 75,000 COVID-related deaths.

The fear is that the number of deaths will grow over the coming weeks. The UK has recorded its five highest daily new infection numbers over the past five days — all above 50,000 and double the daily number of only a few weeks ago.

After an emergency meeting today, the National Education Union, which represents over 450,000 education workers, calls on Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative government to move learning online for at least two weeks. It also tells members they have a legal right not to have to work in an “unsafe environment” of accelerating coronavirus cases, hospital admissions and deaths.

Another union representing teachers, the NASUWT, also calls for an immediate nationwide move to remote education due to virus safety concerns. Its general secretary, Patrick Roach, says there is “genuine concern” that schools and colleges are not able to reopen safely at this time.

The government’s own Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies warned at a December 22 meeting that schools needed to stay closed to bring down virus transmission rates.

— AP