Schools in Greenwich, south-east London, have been asked to close after “exponential growth” of coronavirus demanded “immediate action”, the council said, amid reports that the capital is likely to enter tier 3 soon.
Danny Thorpe, the council leader, said: “I’m writing this open letter to let you know the situation in Greenwich in relation to Covid-19 is now escalating extremely quickly and I have today been briefed by colleagues from Public Health England that the pandemic in Greenwich is now showing signs that we are in a period of exponential growth that demands immediate action.”
Writing to headteachers, Thorpe described the issue as “honestly one of the most difficult questions I have wrestled with during all my time as leader”. He underlined that Greenwich now had the highest rate of infection at any time since March. Schools have been told to move to online learning for the rest of the term from Monday evening, with the exception of key worker children and those with specific needs.
The announcement comes despite the government threatening to use legal action under the Coronavirus Act against headteachers in England who want to allow their pupils to learn remotely in the run-up to Christmas. Schools that were planning to move to remote teaching during the last week of term, to ensure their pupils would not have to self-isolate on Christmas Day, are being ordered to remain open until Friday.
One headteacher in Hertfordshire was sent an official letter last week from the schools minister, Nick Gibb, telling him the government was prepared to deploy its new powers under the act to ensure his secondary school remained open for all pupils until Friday.
Thorpe referred to the government’s threat of legal action, saying that while “the DFE [Department for Education] are clear this isn’t their position and indeed have issued directives to some schools,” he “cannot in all good conscience stand by whilst the numbers are doubling so quickly”.
It comes during reports that the capital is likely to be moved into tier 3 measures soon, with a PA Media analysis finding that the London borough of Havering now has the fifth highest rate of new Covid-19 cases in England. A total of 1,314 new cases were recorded in Havering in the seven days to 9 December – a sharp increase from 834 new cases in the previous seven days.
Five other London boroughs are also in the top 25 highest rates in England: Redbridge, Waltham Forest, Barking and Dagenham, Enfield, and Newham.
Rates are rising in all 32 London boroughs.