BLACKBURN with Darwen’s Director of Public Health Professor Dominic Harrison has advised schools in Blackburn with Darwen to delay their wider opening until at least June 22 due to the regional rise in the coronavirus infection rate – known as the R rate.


After careful consideration, headteachers were advised on Friday evening to delay opening for all year groups for at least two further weeks.


Professor Harrison, said: "This revised guidance is a direct result of information released on Friday afternoon by Public Health England and central government which estimates the R value is now above the critical value of 1 for the North West at R = 1.01.


"On the basis of scientific advice and taking into account government existing policy, I am concerned that the government’s own five tests are not now currently being met and that R rising above 1 presents a risk to the children and residents of the borough that cannot yet be adequately mitigated at this time by the national Test Trace and Isolate system."


In May, the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, announced five tests which set specific criteria that would have to be in place to allow a safe lifting of lockdown measures.


The PM said: "Our fifth and final test is that we must be confident that any adjustments to the current measures will not risk a second peak of infections that overwhelms the NHS.


"It is vital that these tests are met before any changes are made, because we must not risk all the hard work and sacrifice of the British people.


"This [lockdown lifting] package has been carefully designed so that we can ease the burdens of lockdown while expecting to keep that R below one.


"I cannot and will not throw away all the gains we have made together, and so the changes we are making are limited and cautious. 


"The Public health England evidence suggests that the rise in the R rate “may result in the decline in the national death rate being arrested by mid-June”.


However, Prof. Harrison added: "Our local approach has been to be cautious, making safe and sensible decisions.


"This delay will allow us to continue to review all of the evidence made available to us in the next two weeks and to seek to be more assured that the rate of infection is reducing and R is firmly below 1.


"I will continue to monitor what is a fast-evolving situation very closely.


"I am seeking further clarity from Public Health England and central government and will keep my advice to schools under constant review.


"We fully appreciate that head teachers and their staff, in partnership with the Local Authority, have done excellent preparatory work undertaking and completing risk assessments in their schools and hope that parents understand that we are advising this measure in the best interests of public safety as the situation evolves.


"All settings continue to remain open for vulnerable children and the children of key workers as they have been since the start of the national lockdown."

On Friday night, Queen Elizabeth Grammar School headteacher Claire Gammon wrote a statement on the school website to parents and carers.


 

It said: "Following updated guidance from Blackburn with Darwen Council this evening, we are delaying the phased reopening of school until the 22nd June 2020.

"This means that, other than children of Key Workers who have a confirmed place and have returned their signed Parent/Carer agreement, no Year Groups will return until the 22nd June 2020, at the earliest.

"We appreciate this is late notice however we are having to work with an ever-evolving situation and flexibility is required by our whole QEGS community.

"This is an unprecedented situation and so the continued support you are showing on a daily basis is greatly appreciated.

"We will update you further once we have more information.

"To reiterate, only children of key workers who have a confirmed ‘bubble’ and have submitted their signed Parent/Carer agreement can attend next week, from Monday 8th June."

Meanwhile, headteacher of Griffin Park Primary Catherine Clayton-Young also posted on Friday night that they were going to 'delay their wider opening until at least 22 June in response to the regional rise in the R rate'.

It added: "Therefore we unfortunately will not be starting our phased opening from Monday 8th June as planned.

"This means that we will not be welcoming Nursery and Reception children in school on Monday.

"I know how frustrating this will be, and how sad the children will be. The teachers who have worked tirelessly to prepare for Monday are also devastated.

"The important thing to hold on to, is we all want to keep everyone in our communities safe."

Meanwhile, officials from Blackburn The Redeemer Primary School also announced news this morning.

Headteacher Michelle Smith wrote a letter to parents and carers saying they had received an email from the Director of Public Health Professor Dominic Harrison advising schools to delay the wider opening until June 22 in response to the regional rise in the R rate.

It said: "It is with a heavy heart that I write to you this morning.

"We were incredibly happy and excited to start the process of inviting more children back from Monday starting with reception classes.

"Our site and office staff have worked incredibly hard to prepare the school. 

"The Director of Public Health has advised all schools in Blackburn with Darwen to delay their wider opening until at least 22 June in response to the regional rise in the R rate. Therefore we unfortunately will not be starting our phased opening from Monday 8th June as planned.

"Consequently we will moving the start back again and will not be opening to Reception classes until it is safe to do so.

"We will continue to be open for our agreed Key worker and vulnerable children on the days agreed earlier this week."

Earlier this week, the Lancashire Telegraph reported how Blackburn with Darwen Borough's public health director Prof Dominic Harrison had given the go-ahead for junior and infants schools to reopen for all nursery and reception class pupils next week. 

Meanwhile their primary school counterparts in Hyndburn, Burnley, Ribble Valley, Pendle and Rossendale were warned to postpone welcoming back children other than those of key workers or those deemed vulnerable until June 15 by Lancashire County Council County public health director Dr Sakthi Karunanithi. 

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However figures revealed yesterday showed that the North West’s coronavirus reinfection rate is still above one and this is considered to be a ‘red warning light’ against further lifting of the lockdown.

The region’s ‘R’ number – one of the government’s key tests for easing restrictions – is at 1.01 new cases from each Covid-19 victim, the highest in England.

Prof Harrison said this was "a red warning light", confirming his view that the lifting of the lockdown was proceeding too quickly for safety.