Express & Star comment: Coronavirus - what we all need now is clarity
The move to close all schools for the foreseeable future will undoubtedly create a formidable set of challenges for this country.
While the Government is doing all it can to contain coronavirus, the speed with which the disease is spreading is leaving ministers chasing their tails.
As soon as a new piece of legislation is put forward – such as the emergency coronavirus bill, which gave ministers powers to force schools and nurseries to stay open – a new development renders it all rather redundant. There is no doubt that the Government did not want to have to close schools this early. There was a view that if the country could get to the Easter holidays, the huge upheaval caused by mass school closures could be limited. However, this week many schools across the country reached breaking point, with staff shortages due to self-isolation and pupils staying away after displaying symptoms of the illness.
There was no option left but to close schools down, although it is still unclear exactly how this will pan out. We know that from next week schools will stay open only for children of key workers, such as NHS staff and police officers.
Some schools will also continue to educate and feed vulnerable children, those who have a dedicated social worker or an education and care plan. Undeniably, the coming weeks are going to be the toughest that most people in this country have ever known.
In particular, those who were due to take GCSE and A-level exams this year will have been anxiously awaiting news expected today on how their grades will be allocated. It is telling that Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has promised there will be a thorough appeals process available to parents unhappy with the grades their child have been given. This strongly suggests that mock exam results could be used to determine grades, something which gives rise to a host of potential problems.
Many schools deliberately set mock exams at a higher level than actual exams, in a bid to ensure pupils are well prepared. This means grades may not be as high as they should be. What we all need now is clarity.
When it comes to overcoming the coronavirus crisis, perhaps we can take a lesson from the place where it all started – China.
For the first time since the outbreak was identified in December, China did not record a single new cases of Covid-19 in the virus epicentre Wuhan or in the surrounding Hubei province, according to officials.
It is a stark contrast to the start of the year, when new hospitals were being built there in a bid to deal with thousands of new cases each day.
While China has not reached the end of the crisis by any means, the change in circumstances does give the rest of the world a idea of the way forward.
There has been a huge cost in terms of lives, civil liberties and economic livelihoods.
Sadly, we know that we face a testing future here in the UK.
But the fact that the end of the virus appears to be in sight for China gives us all hope.
It remains to be seen whether the UK adopts a more stringent approach in its efforts to combat the disease.