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Herts County Council pledges laptop and free school meals support for students during third lockdown

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Herts County Council is distributing 5,000 laptops and has pledged to continue providing free school meals to the county's poorest primary pupils and secondary students during the third lockdown.

The authority is also pressing ahead with preparations for a mass Covid-19 testing system when teachers and children return to classrooms some time after February's half-term holiday.

The council has stepped up its support after the Government shut schools for all but vulnerable youngsters and those of key workers from Tuesday (Jan 5) – just one day after the official start of spring term.

director of public health Jim McManus. (43855919)
director of public health Jim McManus. (43855919)

The county's director of public health, Professor Jim McManus, said that efforts would continue to make schools as safe as possible and he would be monitoring data to see if the day-long return to class had increased the spread of Covid-19. While children do not generally become seriously unwell, he said, they were a vector for spreading the disease to older age groups.

Many schools held teacher training on Monday and Prof McManus said: "The one day will have seen some infections spread, but much less than would have been the case if all schools were open. We will not know the effect for a week or two."

Speaking at a special briefing for the press on Wednesday (Jan 6) he added: "Our understanding as of 8am this morning was that we are continuing to prepare for schools to roll out testing when they come back."

He said the council had set up a dedicated team to support schools and the equipment to screen pupils was on its way. "Schools should be the last to close and the first to open," he added.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson pledged extra cash for free school meals in a statement to the House of Commons today which also confirmed that A-levels and GCSE exams in England will not go ahead this year.

Cllr Tim Hutchings, Herts County Council's cabinet member for public health and prevention, said: "We are absolutely committed to ensuring that young people get free school meals whether they are in school or out."

He said the council was ramping up its support for remote learning, including the distribution of 5,000 laptops, and was working to mitigate the impact of school closures on youngsters' mental health and wellbeing.

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