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Teachers have described the chaos of the coronavirus testing crisis now hitting schools, with some saying the diffculties caused by those unable to get tests is already so severe they may have to shut their doors.

Testimony sent to the National Association of Headteachers by school staff, seen exclusively by PoliticsHome, has revealed the impact of children and their parents missing up to 10 days of school as they self-isolate after struggling to get tests. 

Teachers say they are now having to consider whether to keep schools open as testing options become increasingly limited and people are being directed hundreds of miles from their homes to test centres.  

Emily Proffitt, head of Cooper Perry Primary in Staffordshire and who sits on the national executive of the NAHT, told Politics Home: “My big concern is the sporadic nature of learning now. It will be disjointed. We are doing the best we can in a very challenging situation that we have no control over. 

“I’ve had children off for five days as their parents try and get them a test. Another parent came to get their child at the gate and said their dad is presenting symptoms and it doesn’t look like they can get a test, so she said I’ll just have to see you in two weeks. So a child that’s just come back to school, […] is now missing two weeks.”

“I’ve also got a real concern parents are going to get fed up with this. So far they are brilliant, reporting symptoms and taking their children out of school but if they can’t get tests they are obviously missing work as well, so will they send in their children with symptoms?”

She said many children may have coughs and colds which typically happen in the autumn term but she has to suggest parents get their children tested, and added that some of her staff had been able to get tests done over a weekend at the start of the month. She worries that if they cannot be screened in the future they might also be absent because of isolation.

Schools have been issued with ten testing kits from the government but they are only to be used in an absolute emergency and reserved for the most vulnerable children whose parents or carers may not take them for tests. 

One head teacher in Birmingham told the union: “I am beginning to need to use my emergency test kits – two given out so far, some schools I have spoken [to] are already down to their final one. I’ve heard that there is no plan to issue schools with any more. 

“As the re-opening of schools relied on the availability of rapid test and trace, I am considering our position on the safety of keeping my school open once I am down to the last few test kits, especially when parents are being directed to Scotland or Oldham currently as their ‘nearest test centre’.”

A head teacher from a primary school in Northern Ireland told the union that they are now struggling to staff classes. 

“One of our teachers presented with symptoms and has still not been tested, two days later.  Two of our special needs assistants have also been waiting several days for a test.  As they both support very vulnerable pupils, these children are being disadvantaged with learning as we have not been able to employ replacements.”

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “Tests need to be readily available for everyone so that pupils and staff who test negative can get back into school quickly. The government assured us that this would be ready, but at the first sign of stress it seems to be falling over.

“This will put the successful and sustainable return to school at serious risk. It is unacceptable for this to happen when schools have put so much effort into getting their part of the plan right, and when pupils have had to endure so much uncertainty and disruption already.”

A government spokesperson said the government’s testing capacity is the highest it has ever been, but they are seeing a significant demand for tests.

They said: “It is vital that children and school staff only get a test if they develop coronavirus symptoms.

“If a positive case is confirmed in a school, swift action is being taken to ask those who have been in close contact to self-isolate, and Public Health England’s local health protection teams continue to support and advise schools in this situation.

“Children who are self-isolating will receive remote education. We will continue to work with schools to ensure all appropriate steps are taken to keep pupils and staff safe.”

They said anyone who is self-isolating as a result of being a close contact of a confirmed case, but does not have symptoms should not request a test. This includes if that case was identified in school or college.

Once self-isolation periods conclude, education settings must not require confirmation of negative test results before admitting or re-admitting students or staff.

The DHSC will also be emailing all schools and colleges with details of how to access additional test kits. An order may be placed each month.

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Nepal’s Ang Rita Sherpa, first to climb Mount Everest 10 times, dies at 72

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All the ascents to the 8,850-meter (29,035-foot) summit of the world’s tallest mountain between 1983 and 1996 by Ang Rita, who went by his first name, like many Sherpas, were made without bottled oxygen.

The 72-year-old, who had suffered brain and liver ailments for a long time, died at his home in the Nepali capital of Kathmandu, his grandson, Phurba Tshering, said.

Ang Rita was also known as the “snow leopard” for his climbing skills.

“He was a climbing star and his death is a major loss for the country and for the climbing fraternity,” said Ang Tshering Sherpa, a former president of the Nepal Mountaineering Association.

The body will be placed at a Sherpa Gomba, or holy site, in Kathmandu, and cremated on Wednesday according to sherpa tradition, Ang Tshering said.

Many other climbers have since surpassed Ang Rita’s feat, with one member of the community setting a record of 24 ascents.

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Romney faces another crossroads on Trump’s Supreme Court push

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Romney’s short Senate career has been punctuated by big moments of distancing himself from the president: marching in a Black Lives Matter protest and penning an op-ed before he even took his Senate seat vowing to push back against Trump when needed. He also occasionally criticizes Trump’s rhetoric, but he’s careful not to get dragged into a back and forth with the president on Twitter or elsewhere.

Yet the party’s 2012 presidential nominee has also largely backed Trump’s appointments and much of his agenda. His voting record is a regular reminder that he’s still a conservative, which his GOP colleagues hope is a sign that he will divorce his differences with Trump from the monumental opportunity the conservative movement sees before it.

“I really don’t know what he’ll do,” said Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.). “I think he’s probably wrestling with it just like he has on other issues.”

Romney’s opinion may not be decisive: He’d need one other Republican senator to join him and Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Collins in opposition to derail McConnell’s hopes of a swift confirmation. For now, that would take a surprise defection after vulnerable Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) backed McConnell’s strategy.

But should Romney be the only other Republican to join the Senate GOP’s moderate bloc, it would invite the explosive scenario of Vice President Mike Pence breaking a 50-50 vote on the Senate floor for a Supreme Court nominee, perhaps just days before Election Day.

Romney’s decision may do a lot to illustrate what kind of senator he will be as he finishes his first two years in the chamber. Romney has little of the baggage of his colleagues over past Supreme Court fights or battles over precedent. At a 2018 debate, Romney said Senate Republicans’ blockade of President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, set no new standard and did not say how he would handle an election-year confirmation under Trump.

Conservative advocacy groups are keeping a close eye on Romney. The Judicial Crisis Network announced Monday that it was pouring $2.2 million into ads boosting the effort to fill the seat. The targeted states are home to vulnerable GOP incumbents, except one: Romney’s Utah.

But Romney is insulated from immediate political ramifications. His term isn’t up until 2024, and that gives Romney significant freedom to make his own way.

With the filibuster gutted on all nominations after recent rules changes by both parties, Senate Democrats are powerless to stop Trump’s appointment on their own. But many enjoy good relationships with Romney and are counting on him to take yet another stand against Trump.

“He’s shown extraordinary courage before,” said Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). “I hope he does again.”

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A Former Government Minister Is Leading Calls By Tory MPs For Boris Johnson Not To Put The Country Back Into Lockdown

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5 min read

The former minister Simon Clarke is leading calls by Tory MPs for the country not to be put back into a full lockdown amid a surge in coronavirus cases.

The Middlesborough MP made a “plea for proportionality” to Matt Hancock in his first contribution to the Commons since standing down as a local government minister earlier this month.

Speaking to PoliticsHome he said: “I’ve seen constituents commit suicide during the first lockdown. When you get those emails it’s quite sobering about the human cost about what it is that we’re demanding of people.

“And it made me reflect that we should lever do so lightly, and that frankly if there are intervening measures before we get to those – then I would strongly hope we would exhaust all of them.”

Speaking ahead of a statement by Boris Johnson on Tuesday, where he is expected to introduce tighter restrictions to prevent the spread of Covid-19, Mr Clarke warned: “there are very, very significant economic tradeoffs” to such measures.

He is calling for a “graduated tradeoff” of freedom “rather than fire off all our artillery now”, adding it will be “a very long winter if we moved into lockdown now”.

Although he is in favour of local lockdowns he added: “But I just think a suite of national measures which set the economy even further back, and really do impose massive restrictions on people’s quality of life, are to be avoided as such time as they are totally unavoidable.”

Mr Clarke urged his former colleagues to “maintain fundamental liberty for people at this stage of autumn” after suggestions it may take six months to tackle the virus.

With the ‘rule of six’ only recently introduced he called for “other rules kick in before preventing households to mix”, saying “things which cut across basic human freedoms and basic human needs are to be avoided until they are an absolute last-ditch option”.

A growing number of Tory MPs have also expressed concern over what they see as a growing lack of parliamentary scrutiny over Coronavirus legislation. 

Peter Bone MP told PoliticsHome: “I think there’s a growing number of MPs who think you shouldn’t be making these significant regulations without parliamentary approval.”

He said the powers were handed over via emergency legislation but it was when there wasn’t “a functioning Parliament”, at the time, and MPs should not get a chicane to defat, amend and vote on them.

As an example he said the “rule of six” would likely have still been passed, but perhaps amended not to include children or a month-long sunset clause.

Asked whether Number 10 had been ignoring its own MPs, Mr Bone said: “Well I think they get used to it, they got used to in an emergency just doing it ,and they’ve continued. There is a drift within government to a more presidential type of government.

Clarke’s call to avoid lockdown was backed up in the Commons by the ex-transport secretary Chris Grayling, who said he did not believe there is a case for a new national lockdown.

He told the Commons: “Given the huge consequences of this virus for people in our communities on their mental health, particularly the younger generation who are paying a very heavy price, can I say to him that given those regional variations – and in the full knowledge of all the pressures that he is facing – I do not believe the case for further national measures has yet been made.”

Mr Hancock replied: “He’s absolutely right that there are some parts of the country where the number of cases is still thankfully very low and so the balance between what we do nationally and what we do locally is as important as the balance in terms of what we do overall.”

Another former minister – Sir Edward Leigh – said public consent for lockdowns is “draining away”.

Addressing the House of Commons, he said: “The trouble with authoritarianism is that’s profoundly inimical to civil liberties, it is also increasingly incompetent, it relies on acquiescence and acquiescence for lockdowns, particularly national ones, is draining away.

“If you tell a student not to go to a pub, they will congregate in rooms, even worse.”

Mr Hancock said in his reply: “As a Conservative, I believe in as much freedom as possible consistent with not harming others.”

But fellow Tory MP Pauline Latham called for more Parliamentary scrutiny of such decisions, saying: “Could I remind the Secretary of State, I think he’ll be going to a Cobra meeting tomorrow, could he explain to the Prime Minister that we actually live in a democracy not a dictatorship and we would like a debate in this House?”

Mr Hancock replied: “Yes, there absolutely will be a debate in this House on the measures… that we have to use. We do have to move very fast.”

The chairman of the 1922 Committee of Conservative backbenchers, Sir Graham Brady, then asked the minister if: “Balancing the measures to tackle Covid with the other health consequences such as cancer patients going undiagnosed or not treated in time and the economic and social consequences is a political judgment?”

He added: “And does he further agree with me that political judgments are improved by debate and scrutiny?”

Mr Hancock replied: “Yes I do and I do come to this despatch box as often as possible. I’m very sorry that I wasn’t able to come on Friday for Friday’s decision but the House wasn’t sitting.”

He added: “The more scrutiny the better is my attitude.”

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