All schools in Greenwich are set to close from tomorrow as lessons move online amid a spike in Covid-19 cases – despite a Government warning to keep classes running or face legal action.
Danny Thorpe, leader of the Labour-run council, has told all schools in the south-east London borough to close four days before the Christmas break, warning the local Covid-19 situation was ‘escalating extremely quickly’.
All schools will close tomorrow evening, with Cllr Thorpe’s open letter failing to explain whether the closure would continue when pupils return in the New Year.
It comes as the UK recorded 18,447 further coronavirus cases today and 144 new deaths.
Yesterday it was revealed Education Secretary Gavin Williamson could apply for a High Court injunction, forcing schools to remain open in the run-up to Christmas.
Greenwich’s council leader Danny Thorpe has told all schools in the south-east London borough to close from Monday evening as he warned its Covid-19 situation was ‘escalating extremely quickly’
Despite London’s growing Covid-19 rate, there are warnings not to put the capital under Tier 3 restrictions, amid fears it could be ‘catastrophic’ for businesses in the run up to Christmas
Cllr Thorpe’s statement this evening read: ‘I have today been briefed by colleagues from Public Health England that the pandemic in Greenwich is now showing signs that we are in a period of exponential growth that demands immediate action.
‘We now have the highest rates of infection in Greenwich than at any time since March, and for these reasons I have therefore asked all schools in Greenwich to close their premises from Monday evening and move to online learning for the duration of the term, with the exception of key worker children and those with specific needs (exactly the same as in the first lockdown).’
The move could tempt other boroughs to follow suit, as London’s infectionrate per 100,000 people in the capital stood at 191.8 on December 6, up from 158.1 the previous week.
It means London is ahead of regions, such as the West Midlands, which are already in Tier 3 restrictions.
But new powers introduced through the Coronavirus Act allow the Government to issue ‘directions’ to headteachers around education provision during the pandemic.
The Government has powers to issue a High Court injunction to keep schools open, but Greenwich has gone ahead and closed classrooms for the last four days of term amid ‘exponential growth,’ in Covid-19 cases. The closure comes as shoppers continued to flock to Oxford Street in London today, with little room for social distancing
London already has a higher case rate than other parts of England living under Tier 3 restrictions. The case rate per 100,000 people in the capital stood at 191.8 on December 6, up from 158.1 the previous week
Should schools fail to comply after being directed to remain open, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson can apply for a High Court injunction forcing them to do so.
It is understood that directions under the act would only be used as a last resort, while a court order would be sought if they were not followed.
The powers came to light after a headteacher in Ware, Hertfordshire, was sent a ‘minded to direct’ letter from schools minister Nick Gibb warning that the emergency powers could be used.
Presdales School had planned to switch to online learning for the final week of term to ensure staff and pupils did not have to self-isolate on Christmas Day, Schools Week reported.
But it was said to have scrapped the plans after receiving the letter.
Greenwich council leader Danny Thorpe published on an open letter this evening warning the south-east London borough’s Covid crisis ‘demands immediate action’
Tonight’s announcement comes after MPs and the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan warned Tier 3 restrictions would be ‘catastropic’ for the capital, causing ‘untold damage’.
In a letter seen by The Mail on Sunday, the MPs urge the Prime Minister to spare the capital because shutting it down would hurt not just Londoners, but ‘people across the nation’ who depend on the ‘wealth and prosperity generated by our great city’.
A decision on whether to plunge London into the highest lockdown before Christmas was going to the wire this weekend, with a row brewing with Ministers after police and local councils objected to plans to divide London into different tiers.
With the capital’s businesses saying tier 3 would deliver a £3 billion hit to the economy, Ministers including Michael Gove have suggested that only the outer London boroughs with the highest infection rates should go in to the top tier.
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan warned Tier 3 restrictions in the run-up to Christmas would be ‘catastrophic,’ amid claims Health Secretary Matt Hancock could splitting the worst-hit parts of the capital off into Tier 3 but leave the majority in Tier 2
Health Secretary Matt Hancock is also understood to be considering splitting the worst-hit parts of the capital off into tier 3 but leaving the majority of the city in tier 2.
It would mean restaurants and other hospitality businesses in London’s West End could stay open, while those in suburban areas would close.
Earlier today, Boris Johnson admitted in a virtual fund-raising event for Conservative party members that people needed to be cautious over the festive period.
In messages revealed today, he said: ‘My message to everybody is we do have this period of relaxation of measures at Christmas, but I really urge people to think hard about how you choose to enjoy that relaxation. I really would urge people to err on the side of caution rather than, I’m afraid, have a big blow-out with multiple households.
‘I know the rules say three households, but there is ample scope alas for further increases in this disease during tough winter months.’