Cumbria County Council will support any primary school's decision to delay the start of the Spring term

It is up to headteachers to decide if their primary school reopens following the Christmas break. Credit: PA

As Covid infection rates continue to rise rapidly Cumbria's Director of Public Health says we have yet to see the county's darkest day.

In Carlisle the rate of infection is more than 900 per 100,000, the highest in the North West of England. In Eden it is more than 600. Rates everywhere in the county are going up.

The County Council had asked the Department of Education to delay the start of the Spring term for primaries as well as secondary schools due to the rising figures. This was denied.

The Leader of the council, Stewart Young, said they would fully back and support any schools that only wanted to open to vulnerable children and the children of keyworkers.

He said: "The County Council cannot instruct schools not to reopen. That is a decision for the governors of each school on the advice of their head teacher. 

 "However, we are concerned, given the current situation, about both staff and pupil welfare and safety and we recognise the enormous strain and pressure being placed on school governors and head teachers. 

 "I therefore give an assurance that any school in Cumbria that decides that at the present time they are only able to extend direct provision to vulnerable children and the children of key workers, and that they cannot open the school fully in line with government instruction,  will have the full support and backing of Cumbria County Council."

The National Education Union said it is not safe for schools to reopen and were disappointed with the response from the government to the councils demand.

Junior Vice President Louise Atkinson said: 'It highlights to me how they are making this decision very political, they are not thinking of the safety and the wellbeing of the entire community, this is not just about the safety of educators this is about controlling the rates of transmission throughout Cumbria to protect children, to protect their families, to protect the entire community.

The Prime Minister today insisted schools are safe and education is a priority. 

Elsewhere, the hospitals are under increasing levels of strain. The Cumberland Infirmary declared a level 4 emergency and people are being asked to only attend hospital if they really need to.

The Director of Public Health for Cumbria Colin Cox said: "It would be nice to say that this was the darkest day but I have to say I am not looking forward to the rest of January.

"The impact on our health services is pretty clear, in the north of Cumbria the hospital is under a lot of pressure at the moment.

'And really we see that the number of hospitalisations tends to come a couple of weeks after the number of case rises so it is not looking like it is going to get any better in hospitals any time soon either."

The Council's move has been criticised by local Conservative MP Mark Jenkinson, who called it "deeply irresponsible political messaging".

A number of primary schools across the region have decided to delay their opening today.

Some schools may re-open tomorrow for the children of key workers and those who are vulnerable, with all other students will return to online teaching.

A number of schools say they will make a decision on whether to reopen based on the announcement from PM Boris Johnson tonight.

The list of schools that remain closed can be found here.