A COUNCIL leader has told primary schools to prepare for a shutdown as coronavirus infection rates continue to soar.

Phelim Mac Cafferty has written to the Education Secretary Gavin Williamson to include schools in Brighton and Hove in contingency plans.

The Brighton and Hove City Council leader has formally requested that children in the city are not sent back to their classrooms on Monday.

His letter has been backed by the Green Party councillors in Brighton and Hove.

Mr Williamson has faced increasing pressure over children returning to school for the start of the new term.

The Argus: Education Secretary Gavin Williamson is under pressure to close schools as coronavirus cases soarEducation Secretary Gavin Williamson is under pressure to close schools as coronavirus cases soar

This week he did a U-turn over plans to send children at secondary schools in tier 4 areas back, and on Friday told London primary schools to stay shut.

Teaching unions have said the school closure plan should be extended across the country, and have told members it is not safe for them to go back to work.

Now Cllr Mac Cafferty said he has “grave concerns” about the spread of the coronavirus, and says he has advised Brighton and Hove headteachers to move to home learning.

He said the infection rate in Brighton and Hove has shot up by more five times in just three weeks.

The Argus: Brighton and Hove City Council leader Phelim Mac CaffertyBrighton and Hove City Council leader Phelim Mac Cafferty

The rate at the beginning of December was about 50 infections per 100,000 people in the population, but now it is 388 per 100,000.

In the letter Cllr Mac Cafferty said: “The early indications are that this sharp increase is continuing and we will approach rates of approximately 500 per 100,000 in the next few days.

“This rapid increase is mirrored in the rates in our children and young people. The city’s all ages pattern is similar to that previously seen in urban areas of Kent and East Sussex.

“As a council we are committed to ensuring that our children, school staff and wider communities are kept as safe as possible from Covid-19.

The Argus: Campaigners want children to be kept away from the classroom as coronavirus cases soarCampaigners want children to be kept away from the classroom as coronavirus cases soar

“Today, we have advised our primary schools to move to remote learning for the majority of pupils from 4 January.

“This is in direct response to the rapidly increasing infection rates which are predicted to exceed some of those areas that have been included in the framework.

“I hope you appreciate that we have been left with little choice but to take this action and look forward to being included the formal contingency framework.”

Mr Williamson said in mid-December that all primary school pupils in England would return as normal in January.

The return of secondary schools and colleges was set to be phased over time to help them prepare for mass testing..

But on Wednesday, the education secretary delayed the start of term for all secondary schools, as well as some primary schools in Covid-19 hotspots in south-east England, including parts of London.

Then two days later, after pressure from local authorities, he expanded the primary school closures to the whole of London.