Tighter restrictions were introduced this week in light of the new Omicron variant to ensure people wear face masks in shops and on public transport.
It is hoped these measures, as well as offering the Covid booster jab to everyone aged over 18, will mean the new variant doesn’t provoke a big rise in infections in the run-up to Christmas.
According to new government guidance in response to the Omicron variant, masks are “recommended” in communal areas and corridors in schools rather than compulsory, which teachers have called for.
Mungo Sheppard, headteacher at Ash Green Primary School in Mixenden, said: “We have felt very well supported by Calderdale’ Public Health Department who gave advice in early October to help slow the spread by recommending that children in households where Covid cases are, remain off school until a negative PCR is returned for them.
“Despite this, we have seen a large increase in positive cases for children and staff since the October half term break with situations changing constantly in terms of absence which then affects the organisation of classes and of children’s learning.
“So, additional measures now make absolute sense for us regardless of the new variant.
“Our staff are happy to wear face coverings in communal areas such as corridors, they will continue to advocate distancing wherever possible, to emphasise increased hand hygiene and ventilation.
“We have retained measures in place to minimise mixing of children from different classes and have extended this through measures such as a return to digital assemblies to prevent gatherings of different classes when we have had outbreaks of cases.
“We have already reduced all unnecessary face to face meetings and events and have already taken the decision to run our Christmas performances in school without audiences and share these remotely with our families to protect all members of the school community whilst still enabling festive events to run.
“It’s an incredibly difficult time for everyone and it’s exceptionally hard to run school as ‘normal’ but the job that all staff are doing and the support we get from our families is admirable.
“Let’s hope that Christmas provides a sufficient break to enable people to get well and re-charge but it looks as if a long and difficult winter is ahead.”
In a statement, the Calderdale branch of the National Education Union said: “We welcome the new Department for Education guidance for schools. This will help Calderdale schools to uphold local guidance and keep children, their families and staff safe.
“We would like to see the DfE extend this guidance to the wearing of masks in all schools, not just secondary schools, in classrooms as well as communal areas, and to invest in air filtration for schools.
“Ventilation is a key factor in reducing the transmission of COVID and having CO2 monitors in all schools would enable poorly ventilated areas to be identified and made safe.”
Michael Gosling, CEO of the Trinity Multi Academy Trust, said: “We are adapting to the changing picture and putting in place measures to try to ensure that there is minimal disruption to our educational provision. There has been none to date.
“Whilst recent developments are frustrating in parts for us all, there is a bigger picture and we are happy to play our part; staff and students are responding positively.
“Our remote learning offering is primed and ready to go if needed, although at present our attendance is good and stable.
“Working as part of a Trust of ten schools across five Learning Academies, we benefit from having that ‘family atmosphere’ and it has worked. If something creaks a bit in one school, another offers support and so on.”
Calderdale Council’s Director for Public Health, Deborah Harkins, said: “The news over the weekend about the discovery of the new Omicron coronavirus variant is concerning, and I understand that people may be worried about what this development could mean.
“At this stage, we are not aware of any cases of this new variant in Calderdale. We will continue to monitor the situation closely, as part of our routine outbreak prevention and control activities.
“We don’t yet know whether the Omicron variant spreads more quickly or causes more severe illness than the Delta variant, nor how well vaccines work against it. Research is underway to enable us to learn more about it and about the measures that will prevent it spreading and causing serious illness. We do know that the number of COVID cases in the borough remains high so it’s important we step up our efforts to protect ourselves and others.
“In line with national guidance, from tomorrow, face coverings will be mandatory in shops and on public transport. As we approach the busy Christmas period, this is a really easy way we can all help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and support those working in retail or on our transport network.
“I also recommend that people continue to follow the five big things. This means:
- Getting the vaccine when you are invited, even if you’ve previously had COVID-19
- Wearing a face covering when indoors in crowded enclosed spaces (in addition to where mandatory)
- Meeting outside or letting plenty of fresh air in
- Taking a lateral flow test before mixing with others indoors
- Isolating and getting a PCR test if you have symptoms that might be COVID-19.
“The situation with Omicron is fast moving, but we’ll continue to respond quickly and communicate any significant developments.”