London primary schools to close temporarily as COVID-19 cases surge

London primary schools to close temporarily as COVID-19 cases surge
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London’s mayor announced Friday that the British government would be closing all primary schools throughout the capital for the next two weeks amid the rapid surge in new coronavirus infections. 

The announcement comes after the United Kingdom’s education minister, Gavin Williamson, said Wednesday the country would delay the reopening of secondary schools while moving forward with reopening most primary schools for children under the age of 11 next week, according to Reuters

The move prompted criticism from local leaders, as the schools set to reopen included several in areas around London where COVID-19 infection rates remain particularly high. 

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The Guardian reported that leaders in the borough of Haringey vowed to defy the government in supporting any schools that opted to remain closed in order to keep students and staff safe. 

In a letter sent to Williamson this week, local leaders from nine London authorities called for all primary schools to remain closed to all students, except for those in “vulnerable” groups or those whose parents are essential workers. 

In response, the U.K. government held an emergency Cabinet Office meeting on Friday, voting to include the remaining areas of the capital as part of the list of schools that would remain temporarily closed. 

London Mayor Sadiq Khan announced the change on Twitter, writing, “The Government have finally seen sense and u-turned.”

“This is the right decision - and I want to thank education minister Nick Gibb for our constructive conversations over the past two days,” Khan said, referring to the U.K.’s minister for school standards. 

Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, also backed Friday’s decision, adding that all primary schools across the country should be closed as well as the U.K. battles a new, more transmissible strain of COVID-19. 

“What is right for London is right for the rest of the country,” she said, according to The Guardian. “It is time for the government to protect its citizens, and in particular its children, by shutting all primary schools for two weeks in order for the situation to be properly assessed, schools made much safer and children and their families protected.”

As of Friday, more than 2.5 million people in the U.K. have been infected with COVID-19, with more than 74,000 deaths due to the virus, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University

This comes as citizens across the country have already begun receiving the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine, and on Wednesday, U.K. health authorities approved the vaccine candidate from Oxford University and AstraZeneca for emergency use. 

A third vaccine, produced by drugmaker Moderna, is approved for emergency distribution in the U.S. but has yet to be cleared by British health authorities.