Prime Minister Boris Johnson says that opening Britain’s schools next month is a “moral duty,” and that in the event of a resurgence of the virus, “the last thing we want to do is to close schools.”
To avoid the scenario that Mr. Johnson described on Monday, medical experts said, the government will have to be ready to sacrifice a hallowed British institution — pubs, as well as restaurants, which reopened a few weeks ago but are increasingly viewed as among the greatest risks for spreading the virus.
Mr. Johnson’s drive to reopen schools has put him at odds with teachers’ unions and local governments, which generally accept that schools should reopen but argue that Britain’s system for testing and contact tracing is not robust enough to cope with the outbreaks that may follow.
The government, they said, had not developed plans for how teachers should handle sick students or communicate with parents if there is an outbreak. Mr. Johnson’s back-to-school campaign, some said, smacked of a government that had emphasized other priorities, like eating out in restaurants, and was playing catch-up.
“The big question is, if you open schools, how long can you keep them open?” said Devi Sridhar, the director of the global health governance program at Edinburgh University. “If there’s spreading, do you shut down the whole school? Do you shut down a single class?”
Professor Sridhar said the safest way to open schools was to drive down the transmission rate — and the way to do that, she said, was to close “the nighttime economy.” In the Scottish city of Aberdeen, she noted, nearly 800 people were forced into quarantine because of an outbreak that authorities traced to a handful of pubs.
“My message is, you have to choose,” she said. “Which part of the economy do you have to sacrifice? Something’s got to give.”