Shutting schools in Swansea early would likely increase the spread of coronavirus and lead to even higher infection rates, more people having to isolate, more hospital admissions and more deaths, the Leader of Swansea Council has warned.
Rob Stewart said the rate of infections among pupils is below that of the general population in Swansea and schools have strict procedures in place to protect both learners and staff.
The clear medical advice is that if pupils are not in a supervised environment in schools they are likely to be mixing with young people from outside their bubbles and form groups including children from different schools.
All schools in Swansea are being encouraged to remain open until Friday December 18 and take INSET days on December 21 and 22 and the position is being kept under continuous review.
But just like the wider population in Swansea, there is an increasing number of positive cases resulting in school staff having to self-isolate.
Where this leads to reduced or unsustainable staffing levels, individual schools may have to close before December 18 and remote learning used where possible.
Cllr Stewart said: “In Swansea we are seeing record levels of Covid-19 cases. Our local health experts are clear, we are at risk of a health catastrophe if we don’t slow the spread of the virus now.
“Public health experts are equally clear that the spread is not due to schools. The main cause of rising numbers of cases is because people in the community generally are not adhering to social distancing.
“The early closure of schools could significantly add to this, because it will add to the pressures on parents by increasing the likelihood of children mixing in a less controlled way while they are outside of the school environment, or leaving parents having to take children with them to busy shops and other settings.
“Schools have done an amazing job in ensuring our school settings are as safely controlled as they can be and I am very grateful to our head teachers and their teams for this.
“Spot inspections of schools by the Health and Safety Executive have shown very high levels of commitment by staff and pupils alike to the rules while at school.”
He added: “There seems to be a misconception among some people there are high levels of infection in schools but this is not the case.
“Many schools have seen classes and year groups having to isolate but usually this is because one pupil or one teacher has tested positive and the move is a precaution to help prevent others from contracting the virus.
“This sensible and cautious approach – which follows the advice of Public Health Wales and Trace, Track and Protect – is why the level of transmission in schools is below that of the general population in Swansea.”
The general population in Swansea now has one of the highest rates of coronavirus infection in Wales and Swansea Council along with Neath Port Talbot Council and Swansea Bay University Health Board this week again urged people to follow the rules, maintain social distancing and stay at home if they have symptoms or are required to isolate.
Where children are asked to isolate parents are being urged to ensure they do not mix with others from outside their household and not to take them shopping or to other places where there are likely to be lots of people.
Parents are also being asked to avoid having gatherings of other people’s children in their homes.
Cllr Stewart added: “We know children have birthdays and want to celebrate in the normal way but sadly parties and sleep-overs will only spread the virus.”