These Teens Want Their Schools Closed Down To Protect Themselves And Their Families From The Coronavirus
"College is essentially a mass gathering ... it’s alarming that schools are still open," one at-risk student told BuzzFeed News.
Teenagers in the UK are calling on the government to close down schools to protect them and their families from the coronavirus. This is Aarya Sharma, who has a blood disorder and is worried about catching the virus at her sixth form college.
The government announced on Monday that everyone should now be avoiding unnecessary social contact — but it said now was not the right time to close down schools, despite a number of other European countries taking that step.
"We think at the moment on balance it's much better if we can keep schools open, for all sorts of reasons," prime minister Boris Johnson said.
But Aarya, a 17-year-old from Surrey, said this wasn't good enough. She is among many students and parents across the UK lobbying the government with the #closetheschoolsuknow hashtag.
She told BuzzFeed News: "College is essentially a mass gathering — overall our secondary school and sixth form have over 1,500 students so, as young people most likely won’t have visible symptoms. It’s alarming that schools are still open.
"Although the young have been able to recover the best from the coronavirus, they are obviously very able to spread the virus to students with underlying health conditions, such as myself and friends of mine with asthma, and staff members as well — one of my favourite teachers, a young person, has severe asthma.
"And with something like the coronavirus, it is so new that it creates stress and anxiety for me especially because I have no idea how it could affect a young person such as myself with underlying health conditions.
"I also have an 8-year-old brother, who is definitely healthier than me as he doesn’t have the blood disorder I do, but him going to school puts me at risk — because although he’s likely to be absolutely fine, he could potentially become infected if there were a case at his school and then come home and infect me and we don’t know what the consequences of that would be."
Aarya said the national focus appeared to be on keeping elderly people safe, and the government seemed to have forgotten there were many young people with underlying health conditions that put them at risk.
Amy Botting, an 18-year-old student from West Sussex, also said she was not comfortable going to college — because her father was at high risk of becoming seriously ill with the disease.
She told BuzzFeed News that her dad had a heart attack last year and had since found out he was borderline diabetic. "He has a weak immune system," she said. "My dad thankfully doesn't go out often as he doesn't work, but I do feel that if he were to contract COVID-19, it could be threatening to his health.
"I, like most people, don't want to lose a loved one and I would do anything to ensure his safety."
Amy said schools were not particularly hygienic and it was almost impossible to practise social distancing in that environment.
"As soon as a school or college has the virus — and it goes undetected because the government aren't allowing everyone to take the tests — depending on the school size, COVID-19 will spread like wildfire," she said.
"The thought of students taking home the virus to family members which such issues, I can't imagine how they would feel knowing they passed it on to loved ones."
Amy said she had A-level exams coming up in May and June, but these should be delayed in the circumstances, even though this would prove a major headache for universities.
"Schools and universities are mass gatherings in their own right and if our government want to stop mass gatherings of more than 1,000 people, then most schools and colleges exceed that amount and therefore it will help spread the virus," she said.
In Parliament on Monday evening, Labour's shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth pressed the government on its decision not to close schools.
"While I understand the reasoning for the decisions the government have made today, surely there will now come a moment when schools will close," he said. "Teachers are already anxious, and parents need to plan."
Health secretary Matt Hancock replied: "The scientific advice is not only that closing schools has a significant impact on people’s ability to work in, for instance, key areas such as the health service, but also that if we get it wrong, children may stay with elderly grandparents instead of going to school, and thus increase the risk.
"We keep this matter under review and we are in constant discussion about it, but we have not changed the advice on schools today."
The government has published new guidance for households with possible coronavirus infections; if one person has symptoms, then all family members must stay at home and not leave the house for 14 days.
However, there is no specific guidance as yet for students who do not have symptoms but feel that either themselves or their family members are being put at risk by them staying in school or college. The Department of Health and Social Care said further guidance on this will be published shortly.