Covid: Schools reopen and care home visits allowed as lockdown eased in England

School pupils in England will be returning to classrooms on Monday Credit: PA

Millions of schoolchildren are returning to classrooms and people can now visit their loved ones in care homes more regularly as part of the first step in easing lockdown in England.

As pupils return to schools for the first time in at least two months, the rules around meeting a person from another household will also be loosened to permit recreation and not just exercise.

It means people can meet another person for a coffee or picnic outdoors but the "stay at home" message will remain in place.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he hoped the easing of restrictions on Monday will mark a “big step” on his “roadmap to freedom” - which could see all Covid restrictions lifted by June 21.

He told the Daily Telegraph that even though it was “only a small relaxation of the rules”, the changes would bring “joy and relief” to families after months of “tough restrictions”.

Asking on Sunday about the risks involved in reopening schools, Mr Johnson said he agreed with education experts that more damage was being done to pupils by keeping them at home.

He said on a visit to a north London vaccination centre: “I think the risk is actually in not going back to school tomorrow given all the suffering, all the loss of learning we have seen."

Schools reopen

All primary schools should fully reopen today, children's minister Vicky Ford told ITV News, but many secondary schools may choose to stagger the reopening to allow for mass coronavirus testing to be carried out.

They are being asked to take three Covid-19 tests at school and one at home during the first fortnight. They will then be sent test to do at home twice a week.

Most schools in England have reopened, with secondary pupils being asked to wear face coverings. Credit: No 10

Face masks are also being advised indoors at secondary schools and college, where social distancing cannot be maintained.

Primary school children are not being asked to do coronavirus tests or wear face masks.

Some children will also return to schools in Northern Ireland for the first time since December. P1 to P3 pupils will return to class but are set to go back to remote learning after two weeks.

England's chief schools inspector had warned about eating disorders and self-harming among children, saying they endured “boredom, loneliness, misery and anxiety” during the third national lockdown.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson is looking at proposals for a five-term academic year, a shorter summer holiday and longer school days to help pupils catch up on their education.

Children's minister Ms Young, responding to an ITV News survey which showed "83% of people" believe teachers should have been vaccinated ahead of schools reopening, said school staff "aren't at more risk than other front line operations".

She said any teachers considered extremely vulnerable to coronavirus should already have been vaccinated.

Care home visits

Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of care home residents in England will be able to see a nominated friend or relative face-to-face from this week.

But visitors will be tested, wear personal protective equipment (PPE) and be asked to keep physical contact to a minimum.

Handholding is permitted but hugs and kisses are not, the government has said in its guidance.

Daily confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the UK Credit: PA Graphics

The government said 82 more people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Sunday – the first time that fewer than 100 deaths have been reported since October 19.

The declining case rate has led to calls for the Prime Minister to accelerate the plan for lifting lockdown.

Mark Harper, chairman of the Covid Recovery Group made up of lockdown-sceptic Conservative MPs told BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour that the Government “should bring forward the roadmap”.

More than 1.1 million people in the UK have received both doses of a Covid-19 vaccine. 22.2 million first doses have been administered. People aged 56 to 59 are being invited to book for a jab from this week.

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