Prime Minister Boris Johnson could close schools as a last resort in the event of further local lockdowns, a No 10 source has said.
Indications have pointed to the Government shutting pubs, restaurants and shops before closing schools once they open again, after he spoke of a “moral duty” to get children back into their classrooms.
The restrictions could come into place in the event of a local lockdown, similar in that to Leicester.
Scientific advisors have previously said more restrictions on such businesses may be required if schools are to reopen in England next month.
Children’s commissioner for England Anne Longfield had said the reopening of schools “should be prioritised”, insisting they must be first to reopen and last to close during any reintroduction of restrictions.
While the schools minister Nick Gibb said this week that the Government cannot “decree” that classroom education would be prioritised, instead saying decisions would be made by local health chiefs, a No 10 source said on Saturday that Mr Johnson’s expectation is that schools would be the last sector to close.
“The PM has been clear that businesses including shops, pubs and restaurants should be forced to close first, with schools remaining open for as long as possible,” the source said.
Mr Johnson, writing in the Mail on Sunday, said it is the “national priority” to get all pupils back into classrooms in September after months without in-person education.
“This pandemic isn’t over, and the last thing any of us can afford to do is become complacent,” he wrote.
“But now that we know enough to reopen schools to all pupils safely, we have a moral duty to do so.”
In Nottinghamshire, concerns have been raised over an increasing number of cases by public health officials, who have pointed at car sharing and large gatherings as a reason for the rise.
A dessert factory in Newark has also become a cause for concern.
The Downing Street source said Mr Johnson has been keen to stress the potential damage to children’s health if they do not return.
“The PM has stressed that the harm done to children’s education prospects by not attending school as well as to their mental health is far more damaging than the low risk posed, which schools will be carefully managing, and that those from disadvantaged backgrounds are suffering the most,” the source added.
Professor Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer for England, has also warned the nation has “probably reached near the limit or the limits” of what can be done to reopen society safely.