Looking out to sea during a weekend escape, I was delighted to see a number of cruise ships.
After a 14-month hiatus due to Covid, these magnificent vessels are no longer languishing in ports, and wealthy pensioners are finally able to indulge in one of their favourite pastimes.
But what about our children? While many of the double-jabbed elderly are joyfully whizzing around the country catching up with old friends and hitting the shops and restaurants with all the money they have saved, life is still far from normal for those at school.
Pupils continue to be subjected to damaging, disruptive and unnecessary Covid-related measures designed to prevent a threat that no longer exists.
Isabel Oakeshott said she has come to dread ’emails of doom’ from her daughter’s school and said it was exasperating to ‘self-isolate’ to prevent a threat that no longer exists (file photo)
I have come to dread the emails of doom from my daughter’s school informing me that yet another child or teacher isn’t feeling well, or a member of staff has been ‘pinged’ by NHS Test and Trace, as a result of which all normal activity must cease.
The first and most unwelcome alert came on the eve of half term, just as she and her two siblings were packing up for a much anticipated ‘staycation’ to the Isle of Wight. Cue all plans in disarray.
Even worse was the run-up to Easter, when pupils had only been back for a matter of days before they were all sent home. After almost a whole term of homeschooling, they had been so excited to see friends again — only for shattering disappointment. By the time they’d finished self-isolating, it was the holidays.
Last week we reached the highest level of virus-related absences from state schools in England since they reopened in March — at least 239,000.
One desperate father wrote to me, following comments I made on Twitter, to share his own family’s misery. His young son’s school had rung to say he must be collected at once after contact with someone who had tested positive. As both he and his wife are self-employed, one of them will have to receive little or no income while they care for him during his isolation.
Meanwhile, both businesses are hanging by a thread and their ‘bounce back’ loan repayments have just started. I can only imagine his fury and worry. The paranoia is equally evident at my younger daughter’s primary school, where a teacher felt the need to clamp a jumper over her mouth while she and the class sang Happy Birthday to one pupil.
The mother-of-three said said pupils continue to be subjected to disruptive, unnecessary Covid measures, and believes children have suffered enough (file photo)
What a ridiculous charade. Are there two more miserable and exasperating words for children and parents right now than ‘self-isolate’?
That is what thousands of teachers and pupils are still routinely required to do for a full ten days whenever a ‘close contact’ tests positive for the virus — even if that ‘close contact’ is asymptomatic, everyone who has been near them continually tests negative and anyone vulnerable has been jabbed.
Quite how any of it fits with the steel rain that used to be poured on parents who dared take their children out of school a day or two before term ended to go on holiday is unclear.
The corrosive ‘safety first’ approach was fair enough when scientists were still learning about transmissibility and lethality of the virus. Now we know as much as we do, including PHE data that suggests jabs will protect against the Delta strain, it is unforgivable.
To date, more than 31 million people — almost half the UK population — have received both jabs, giving them a high degree of protection from a virus that is only routinely deadly to a minority of people. This ought to have liberated our children from the tyranny of bubbles, social distancing and self-isolating many weeks ago.
After all, Covid very rarely makes kids seriously sick. Most who contract the virus are either asymptomatic or have only mild symptoms. Just 40 of the 128,000 people in the UK who have died within 28 days of a positive Covid test were under 20.
Most will have had underlying health conditions. Tragic as their loss is, there are far greater risks to our children out there. So why are schools continuing to behave as if we are at the peak of the pandemic?
At the slightest sign that a pupil or teacher is unwell, or worse, may have come into contact with someone who has tested positive for Covid, the education authorities act as if the whole school has been hit by a chemical weapon.
Lateral flow tests, heavily promoted by the Government and distributed free of charge by the NHS, were supposed to be the way out of all this hysteria. Results within half an hour mean everybody can quickly get back to normal after a scare.
Parents continue to be encouraged to carry out twice-weekly lateral flow tests on their children. But it is unpleasant and almost entirely pointless because schools often don’t take the results seriously — because, for most educational establishments, only a ‘gold standard’ PCR result will do.
As was the case with a friend’s daughter, some schools encourage parents of children who don’t feel well to carry out the tests — then refuse to accept a negative result until it has been confirmed in a separate test processed by the NHS.
Children have suffered and been disadvantaged enough. We have cut them off from their friends; told them they can’t hug their aunts, uncles and grandparents; stopped them from going anywhere exciting and, perhaps worst of all, created a deeply unhealthy culture of risk aversion and fear.
The Prime Minister must make it crystal clear that this approach to possible cases of coronavirus in schools is no longer necessary. Teachers should be thanked for their efforts and ordered to return to doing what they do best — which is not promoting a culture of unnecessary fear.