All schools in Milton Keynes should stay closed until staff and pupils have Covid jabs, says council leader as Major Incident is declared
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Milton Keynes was placed in Tier 4 of restrictions before Christmas and during the festive break it was announced that all schools in Milton Keynes would remain closed for at least an additional two weeks as infection rates have continued to climb.
A Major Incident was declared at 3pm in the Thames Valley area which includes Milton Keynes. Thames Valley also covers all of Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire. There are growing concerns about the growing pressures on the NHS across the region as infection rates continue to rise.
MK Council leader Pete Marland has now said that a vaccination programme must be put in place across schools for pupils and staff before they reopen to ensure safety, restore confidence and provide long-term stability while helping to reduce the infection rate.
Pete was one of the first council leaders nationally to request school closures, as Milton Keynes has been hit hard by the spread of the new variant of Covid-19. He has also called for more financial support so people can self-isolate if need to and a greater level of support to struggling businesses.
He said: “Milton Keynes has one of the highest infection rates in the South East. The pressure on our NHS is growing. It is right that tougher restrictions are in place now, and that across Thames Valley all agencies work together to spread the pressure on services. However, I’d like to reassure people that specifically in Milton Keynes we are not at that critical level yet and across our partners we have been working to a major incident level of co-ordination for 10 months now her in Milton Keynes.”
He added: “What is clear is that despite the restrictions our infection rate is one of the highest in the South East and Milton Keynes is one of the few areas where both our primary and secondary schools are closed. Our younger population demographic, the size of our schools and the new variant means that I would not want schools to reopen until a school vaccine programme is rolled out. Safety of staff and pupils is a priority. It has been clear for some time, even before the new strain, that our schools were a major source of outbreaks. Rolling out the vaccine quicker in schools now will not only make them safer but it will reduce the overall transmission rate in MK.
“As part of the Major Incident I’m pushing that MK schools get priority for a vaccine roll out. We have a mass vaccination centre ready to go in central Milton Keynes. Rolling the vaccine out to schools is vital before they reopen. It will mean we are all safer. Teachers and staff will be safer. Pupils will be safer, and their families will be safer. The school vaccine priority is needed to restore trust and confidence in our education system being as safe as it can be, as well as driving down our overall levels of infection. Reopening Milton Keynes schools without a vaccine programme will be a recipe for disaster and probably just prolong our high infection rate, the level of restrictions and increase the economic pain.”
City Conservative group leader Alex Walker said: "We are in a very difficult place in MK. The council does need to step up and take a real leadership role to help reduce rates and pressure on the health system.
“Our neighbours in Bucks took the major incident decision last week. We are in a worse place than them. We can’t waste time, if additional resource is required, the call needs to be made.”