Public transport will have no room for most children who rely on buses, trains and trams to go to school in September, government science advisers warned.
The space needed for social distancing means that public transport in England they will soon be overwhelmed at both ends of the school day, with the pressure expected to be particularly severe in London, they say.
The warning, which appears in a document published Friday by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, wise, highlights a difficulty many families may face under Boris Johnson’s plans for all children to return to school after the summer holidays.
Experts on the Activities for children and arrival group, a subgroup of Sage, raised their concerns after an assessment of public transport capacity by the Department of Transportation (DfT). The document states:
The internal modeling of the DfT suggests that there is likely to be only the ability to accommodate a minority of children who use public transportation to go to school in September, while maintaining social distances.
The report suggests that separate student transportation, or staggered start times, could reduce the risk of infection on buses, trains and trams, but admits that this would require coordination with local employers. For those who live nearby, cycling and “walking buses”, both with health benefits, may be encouraged, although these may be less popular in the fall and winter, he adds.
Travel surveys conducted by the DfT show that around 5% of elementary school children and almost a third of secondary school children take the bus to school. While extra buses can be installed quite easily, students using the train may face more problems, experts say.
The document urges schools to give up the term “boils” when referring to children who are allowed to mix, despite concerns that it risks being confused with household boils. Instead, he says that pupils should be “segmented” into smaller groups to reduce the risk of transmission, limit the size of the epidemic and facilitate identification of related cases.