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LONDON — Teaching unions and government officials in Britain are locked in a heated debate over plans to reopen elementary schools in England in two weeks time.

As part of Britain’s easing of lockdown restrictions, Boris Johnson, the prime minister, announced last week that he hoped elementary schools in England would start opening in phases at the beginning of June. Only children in kindergarten, Grade 1 and Grade 6 would initially return.

But several teaching and doctors unions say that the government is moving too quickly.

The debate was plastered across several British newspapers on Saturday morning. “Schools to defy unions and reopen next month,” ran a frontpage headline in the Times of London. “Reopening schools on 1 June is too dangerous, say doctors,” said the Guardian.

A number of teaching unions say that the government has not addressed teachers’ safety concerns. The British Medical Association, the main doctors union, said that reopening schools now risked a second spike in infections.

The city of Liverpool has indicated it will defy government guidance and keep its school gates shut until at least June 15th.

Speaking at Friday’s Downing Street press conference, Matt Hancock, the health secretary, said he wouldn’t support the phased reopening of schools unless it was safe to do so, “and it is safe to do so.”

“In the same way that it’s terrible news that this virus impacts on the elderly so much, the good news is that it seems to spare children in almost every case,” he said.

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