Experts have discussed concerns that, even if all schools in England were closed immediately, the spread of the new mutant strain of coronavirus still could not be contained.
The government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, which we have all come to know as SAGE during the pandemic, published minutes today in which it admitted it simply did not know if closing schools would help stop transmission of Covid-19.
And, even worse, scientists now fear the new variant may be spreading 71% more quickly than other versions of coronavirus, the Mirror reports.
Advisors also said the two-metre social distancing rule is "likely" to have to be "reconsidered" in light of the new strain.
This could lead to people being told they can only break the two-metre rule they are wearing a mask, and for no other reason.
SAGE's latest advice to the government was published today, hours after 78% of England was put into Tier 4.
Primary schools will also stay shut next week to around a million pupils – up to 15% – in 50 council areas.
But drastic though these measures are, the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) still fear they might not be enough.
In a meeting on December 22, SAGE agreed it now was "highly unlikely" that Tier 4-style measures, with schools open, would be enough to keep the R number below 1 due to the new variant.
Full list of Covid-hit areas where primary schools won't open due to virus spike
The scientists agreed R "would be lower with schools closed", and shutting secondaries would have a greater impact than primaries.
But the experts made clear that, even if all schools were to shut, they still don't know if it would bring the R number below 1.
They agreed: "It is not known whether measures with similar stringency and adherence as Spring, with both primary and secondary schools closed, would be sufficient to bring R below 1 in the presence of the new variant.
"The introduction of Tier 4 measures in England combined with the school holidays will be informative of the strength of measures required to control the new variant.
"But analysis of this will not be possible until mid-January."
England has gone through two national lockdowns – one in Spring and one in November. In Spring, schools were shut to all but vulnerable and key workers' children. In November, they were open.
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