British Prime Minister Boris Johnson faced a backlash on Monday over his decision to keep schools open, with angry parents keeping their children at home and complaining that other countries were doing more to stop the spread of coronavirus.
Britain has reported 1,372 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 35 deaths, fewer than in Italy, Spain and France, where schools have been shut, though the British numbers are expected to rise.
Johnson’s spokesman said the scientific advice was that school closures were not a step the government should be taking at this time, but a growing number of parents are refusing to send their children to school.
In Doncaster in northern England, Suzana Ilieva has kept her six-year-old son at home since Friday, out of fear that he could transmit the virus to an elderly relative who lives with her family.
“I think the government is irresponsible and for the sake of protecting the economy is damaging people’s lives,” she said. “I made my own decision with my husband.”
In Anglesey in north Wales, Helen Wright was at home with her 10-year-old son and had asked his school to send her a home education pack.
“I do not trust government guidelines or the government over their handling of the matter,” she said.
Several teachers who spoke to Reuters reported that a larger than usual number of children were absent on Monday. They did not wish to be quoted, saying that managers had asked staff not to talk to media.
The tags #Covid19Walkout and #CloseTheSchoolsNow were both trending on Twitter in Britain. Pupils were posting photos of densely packed school corridors and staircases, saying it was impossible to follow guidelines on social distancing.
“@BorisJohnson it’s time to act!” a user called Charlotte said in one of many tweets directed at the prime minister. “We need you to take action to SAVE LIVES! Why are we the only country not doing anything? This is so frustrating.”