Boris Johnson has failed to guarantee that schools in England will reopen on time next month, after minsters warned a new strain of the coronavirus pandemic was out of control. 

Teaching unions have called for the return of schools to be delayed after it emerged that the mutation is highly contagious. 

At the weekend the health secretary Matt Hancock said he could not rule out school closures of the kind seen during the first lockdown in March as the government battles the threat. 

The new variant forced the prime minister to cancel the Christmas plans of millions on Saturday. 

The Northern Ireland health minister has already suggested that schools there are unlikely to reopen as expected after the Christmas holidays. 

At a press conference in Downing Street, Mr Johnson said he wanted to stick to the current plan of a staggered start for schools in January “if we possibly can”.    

He added that the common sense thing to do was to “follow the path of the epidemic”. 

In a sign that ministers understand the fatigue of millions of parents who spent months trying to balance the demands of jobs and full-time childcare, the government has repeatedly said that schools will be the last thing to close in an outbreak.   

In a bid to strike a positive note, the prime minister promised: “We can certainly look forward to a very, very different world for this country from Easter onwards”.

Scientists have expressed concern that the new mutant strain of coronavirus can more easily infect children.  

Data suggests it is better able to spread amongst young people than other strains of the disease.

Professor Neil Ferguson, from Imperial College London, said: “There is a hint that it is has a higher propensity to infect children. That may perhaps explain some of the differences but we haven’t established any sort of causality on that but we can see that in the data.”

Independent Premium Comments can be posted by members of our membership scheme, Independent Premium. It allows our most engaged readers to debate the big issues, share their own experiences, discuss real-world solutions, and more. Our journalists will try to respond by joining the threads when they can to create a true meeting of independent Premium. The most insightful comments on all subjects will be published daily in dedicated articles. You can also choose to be emailed when someone replies to your comment.

The existing Open Comments threads will continue to exist for those who do not subscribe to Independent Premium. Due to the sheer scale of this comment community, we are not able to give each post the same level of attention, but we have preserved this area in the interests of open debate. Please continue to respect all commenters and create constructive debates.

Want to bookmark your favourite articles and stories to read or reference later? Start your Independent Premium subscription today.


News – Boris Johnson fails to guarantee reopening of schools in January