I know how upset many will be by the decision on lockdown. This is especially true of teachers, pupils and parents. The Government was desperately keen to keep schools open. Young people are our future and this was, rightly, prioritised above many other areas of our national life.
It is especially troubling for those whose summer exams will no longer proceed as planned. Establishing a new methodology for how students will be fairly and appropriately assessed is vitally important. It is not an easy task but it is crucial to get it right.
Teachers have consistently shown their dedication in supporting vulnerable and key workers’ children and will again rise to the challenge of remote learning – with which both schools and students are now far more familiar.
The reason for the new lockdown – and its extension to schools – is clear.
The tiered system was proving effective at reducing the old strain of Covid – it was falling by some 30% every 2-3 weeks, a trajectory that held the promise of keeping the virus suppressed until the vaccine proved effective.
Alas the new strain of Covid, probably originating in Kent in September, changed everything. This is estimated to be 50-70% more infectious. One study has estimated that rather than a 30% fall, the new strain would cause a 300% rise in infections over the same period.
Throughout we have focussed on supporting our NHS staff who are fighting so hard to support us. As the NHS hits its busiest time of the year for the sake of everyone who may need its help, for Covid or any other reason, restrictions had to be tightened to reduce cases.
Unlike March we now know the route out. Vaccines, brilliantly produced within a year, are believed to be similarly effective against the new variant. Vaccines reaching as many people as possible, as quickly as possible (starting with the most vulnerable) will help retain the resilience of the NHS and get us beyond this pandemic.
The roll-out is hugely ambitious and requires the anticipated scaling up of the Oxford vaccine’s production, alongside a complex delivery process covering every corner of the UK.
We must however be ambitious. At every stage – including Heads and Teachers working so hard to open schools – people have shown their determination to achieve important objectives notwithstanding huge difficulties and the risk of setbacks. Pushing as hard as possible to deliver the vaccine as swiftly as possible is the right approach. It will require a huge national effort but is the surest way of securing a 2021 to which to look forward.