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Coronavirus cases are increasing exponentially, Thorpe said

Greenwich Council has asked all the borough’s schools to close this week as the coronavirus spreads among the borough’s teenagers.

Council leader Danny Thorpe announced this afternoon that he had asked schools to move to online learning from Tuesday, except for vulnerable children and those of key workers, because on “exponential growth that demands immediate action”.

Schools not run by the council will not have to close, but Thorpe’s announcement on social media will put pressure on academies to follow suit. (Monday update: Two academies said they would not close.)

In the seven days to 8 December, there were 225 cases of coronavirus per 100,000 people in Greenwich, according to Public Health England figures released on Sunday afternoon. The rate in Lewisham is 168 per 100,000, and 292 per 100,000 in Bexley, where schools are to be given rapid testing kits.

“We now have the highest rates of infection in Greenwich than at any time since March,” Thorpe has written in a letter to parents. “For these reasons, I have therefore asked all schools in Greenwich to close their premises from Monday evening and move to online learning for the duration of the term, with the exception of key worker children and those with specific needs, exactly the same as in the first lockdown.

“It is absolutely essential that everyone understands this is not an opportunity to extend Christmas celebrations in any way, and I’m asking for this to happen to reduce the risk of transmission.”

“I wouldn’t be asking for this unless the risk was extreme, but with numbers rising so rapidly it is clear action is needed,” he continued.

Thorpe added that he wanted “as many people to come forward and get tested as possible” when rapid testing facilities become available in Greenwich.

In his letter to headteachers, Thorpe said: “I cannot in all good conscience stand by whilst the numbers are doubling so quickly. If the numbers are indeed doubling every 4 days, they would do so again by this Thursday, exposing more people to risk.”

Earlier this month the council announced plans to give breakfast and activity bags to 8,000 children who receive free school meals. “We will continue this work and schools will communicate to those who need to know how this support will be provided,” Thorpe said.

At meeting of Greenwich Council’s health and wellbeing board last week, the council’s director of public health, Steve Whiteman, said that London had seen a higher infection rate among teenagers than the rest of the country.

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