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‘Keep schools rolling’: Prominent north-east scientist wants pupils to return to classrooms amid Omicron fears

Professor Hugh Pennington says it is important for schools to reopen.
Professor Hugh Pennington says it is important for schools to reopen.

Professor Hugh Pennington wants schools to reopen after the festive break as concerns mount over the increase in Omicron cases.

The former Aberdeen University microbiologist feels that, while we still have more to learn about the full impact of the variant, education should continue as normal.

He has highlighted the importance of those living with schoolchildren to be vaccinated and to have received their boosters.

First minister Nicola Sturgeon has said the government is committed to making sure pupils return to classrooms following the Christmas holidays.

Nicola Sturgeon has vowed to keep schools open.

During her Covid-19 briefing on Wednesday December 29 she said it was a “priority” that schools were kept open.

Ms Sturgeon said: “It remains our priority to keep schools open to minimise further disruption to children’s education but it’s vital that in doing so we make sure schools are kept as safe as possible.”

Last month, it emerged a school in Aberdeen had published its backup plan if it had to return to remote learning.

The Scottish Government have also updated advice for keeping schools safe in the new term.

Schools in Aberdeen and the Highlands are due to return on Thursday with classes in Aberdeenshire and Orkney to resume the day before.

Pupils in Shetland and the Western Isles go back on Thursday and schools in Moray return on Friday.

Professor Hugh Pennington feels schools should reopen.

Call to assess Omicron impact

Professor Pennington said young people should go back to their education even as the authorities try to get to grips with the new Covid-19 variant.

He said scientists are attempting to fully understand the impact of the new strain of coronavirus.

Professor Pennington also said that the peak may happen before schools return although Scotland’s National Clinical Director Professor Jason Leitch said any spike is likely at the end of month.

He said: “We don’t yet know how serious Omicron is going to be if that happens. We are still in the early stages of working out what the impact is particularly on the elderly.

“The boosters are giving a very good degree of protection and there is no doubt about that.

“I suppose the most important thing to do for schools is to make sure all the people children have contact with at home have had their vaccines and boosters.

“That is by far the most important thing because there is a trade-off.

“At the moment the informed guess is that with any luck by the time the schools have opened the peak of Omicron will have happened.”

Schools around the north and north-east are due to return this week.

Closing schools ‘step too far’

Professor Pennington said it may be best to “wait and see” if there are increasing numbers of hospital patients with Omicron.

He said that given the impact on education already during the course of the pandemic it is important for lessons to continue.

Professor Pennington said: “It is a little bit early to say but I think it is worth the risk of opening schools and it would be a step too far to close them for an extra week because the kids have lost a lot of education already.

“The risk to them is very, very low and as long as the people eligible for boosters have had them by the time schools open that will reduce the risk of harm coming to home contacts. The most important place for this virus to spread is at home.

“The obvious thing to do is wait and see if there is a sudden influx of patients with Omicron. But at the moment the safe thing to do is keep the schools rolling.”

Professor Pennington was chair of bacteriology at Aberdeen University from 1979 until his retirement with emeritus status in 2003.

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