CORONAVIRUS hotspot Hull has seen a “terrifying and astonishing” rise in cases with 12,000 schoolchildren isolating at home.
Headteachers in the East Yorkshire city have warned that there will be a “major threat” to public services unless schools can partially close.
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More than a quarter of pupils (27.6 per cent) – around 12,000 children – were not in school yesterday, according to figures seen by the Guardian.
This is compared to around one in ten pupils across the whole of England.
School leaders have submitted the worrying figures to the Department of Education after data showed more than half of the 97 schools in Hull had sent year groups home on Monday.
The city’s council leader said the area has experienced an “astonishing and terrifying rise in coronavirus cases – now the highest in the country.
The infection rate in Hull is currently 776.4 per 100,000 residents – almost triple England’s average.
Other hotspots have significantly lower rates, including Oldham (598 cases per 100,000) and Blackburn and Darwen (597 per 100,000).
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has been approached by Hull’s Learning Partnership who asked if they could close schools for all but kids of key workers and vulnerable pupils.
However, recent studies have shown kids are six times less likely to spread coronavirus.
A study found that children under the age of 12 had the same transmission rate of kids aged 13 to 17.
Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said rates of the deadly bug haven't changed for children.
There is a concern that if children of key workers cannot be prioritised for attendance there will be a major threat to the infrastructure in the city.”
He told a previous Downing Street press conference: “School age children is one of the areas where rates are not going up, and this is true across the country.”
MPs said recent evidence means school closures should only ever be used again as a “last resort” as Britain battles a second wave of Covid-19.
But in Hull, a letter sent by its three Labour MPs, showed that headteachers were concerned about the rise in cases.
They are committed to keeping all schools fully open but “as a matter of urgency” some may need to restrict attendance.
Their letter read: “It is now clear that it has become increasingly difficult to maintain fully open schools due to significant staff absences.
“The incidence of Covid-19 is at alarming levels in the community.
“There is a concern that if children of key workers cannot be prioritised for attendance there will be a major threat to the infrastructure in the city.”
Mike Whale, the Hull district secretary for the National Education Union, added that the number of teachers and school staff self-isolating was “really significant”.
He is concerned the city may “grind to a halt” unless schools could open only for pupils of key workers because of the number of NHS, police and council staff having to stay at home with their kids.
A Hull virologist believes the sudden rise in Covid infections in the city could be due to low immunity.
Dr Cheryl Walter told HullLive it was partly down to “bad luck” but also due to a number of other reasons.
She said: “Firstly, we are in close proximity to a number of areas with high numbers. Inevitably some of this has crept over to us.
Another potential reason is that we had little ‘community immunity’ going into the second wave, as London did and thirdly, winter is almost always a time of year when airborne infectious diseases are most prevalent."
“The M62 corridor has been a hotspot for a while and so it is likely to spread locally.
“Another potential reason is that we had little ‘community immunity’ going into the second wave, as London did and thirdly, winter is almost always a time of year when airborne infectious diseases are most prevalent.
“It is speculated that immunity levels in London where as high as up to 10 per cent after the first wave.
“Our region saw nowhere near infection and later immunity levels like that, leaving us vulnerable.”
Diana Johnson, the Labour MP for Kingston Upon Hull North, said that headteachers should be given the flexibility to close schools.
She added: “Nobody wants to close schools, I want children in school, but the problem for us in Hull is that we are three times the national average in terms of infections of Covid.
“We need to do something and I think it’s a very reasonable and pragmatic ask of headteachers to have that flexibility if required.
“We’re not saying that all schools will need to do this. But to give that headteachers that flexibility would be a very sensible step.”
It comes after an NHS boss called for school closures and tighter lockdown restrictions in England's Covid blackspot as cases continue to skyrocket.
Chris Long, the Hull University Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust chief executive, has said that a tighter lockdown is needed to tackle growing cases in the area.
When asked about action to close schools for a short period to try and reduce transmission, the NHS boss said: "I'm afraid it would have to, and in other parts of the country.
"The actions that we take now are the ones that will prevent the spread and this means more restrictions."
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