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expert reaction to this evening’s Downing Street press conference

The Prime Minister updated the public on the government’s ongoing actions to tackle COVID-19 during the Downing Street press conference this evening.


Dr Shaun Fitzgerald, Royal Academy of Engineering Visiting Professor, University of Cambridge, said:

“As Sir Chris Whitty outlined this evening there has been a very substantial increase in cases over the last few weeks, with 1 in 25 people in England having covid which is around 2 million people.  This is with schools in recess.  So, as schools return today we will have a lot more mixing and many of the children will not be fully vaccinated.  We can indeed expect tough times ahead in the next few weeks.  However, it is not something to throw our hands up at in despair – instead, let’s put our hands up to open the high level windows in the classrooms.  Ventilating our classrooms to provide reasonable levels of fresh air can make a big difference to clearing out any virus particles and reducing the risk of transmission.  It is not a case of asking everyone to freeze though.  Whilst more fresh air does help, there is a law of diminishing returns in terms of risk reduction and the most important areas to tackle are those which are poorly ventilated.  If there are rooms which are consistently above 1500ppm CO2 levels then some form of action should be ideally be taken.  And there are lots of options in terms of action.  The most obvious is checking that all the openable windows are in fact in use, and that they are openable; have they been maintained and do they work?  But there are others too – flexing the schedule to create shorter lessons with more frequent breaks might be an option but issues of lesson times can have impacts on other classes.  Smaller classes using the less well ventilated rooms and switching rooms to balance occupancy with ventilation provision may be possible in some instances.  Air cleaners might help, but great care needs to be taken in selecting and installing them.  Finally, scheduling of lessons across the school to avoid using the difficult rooms could be considered, but extending the overall school day for staff is non-trivial and would need very careful organisation.  The main takeaway is that there are lots of options for addressing rooms which may appear to be inadequately ventilated, and the benefits (educationally) of improving the air quality in these rooms goes beyond tackling the immediate Covid problem.”



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