Greenwich will order all schools to close from Monday evening (December 14) due to an escalating Covid-19 outbreak in the borough. 

Greenwich Council Leader Danny Thorpe said Public Health England (PHE) had warned him that the number of new coronavirus cases in the borough was now rising so fast that Greenwich could already be in a period of "exponential growth" that "demands immediate action."

Announcing the news on Sunday evening in the form of open letters addressed to families and headteachers, Cllr Thorpe said the situation regarding the virus was "escalating extremely quickly" and had forced the drastic measure after he was briefed by public health officials. 

"I’m writing this open letter to let you know the situation in Greenwich in relation to Covid19 is now escalating extremely quickly and I have today been briefed by colleagues from Public Health England that the pandemic in Greenwich is now showing signs that we are in a period of exponential growth that demands immediate action," he wrote. 

"We now have the highest rates of infection in Greenwich than at any time since March, and for these reasons I have therefore asked all schools in Greenwich to close their premises from Monday evening and move to online learning for the duration of the term, with the exception of key worker children and those with specific needs (exactly the same as in the first lockdown)," the council leader added. 

Greenwich reported an alarming 648 new cases of Covid-19 in the week ending December 8, an increase of 48.6 per cent. 

The borough's rolling rate is currently at 225.0, much higher than the average for the UK as a whole (173.5).

Cllr Thorpe urged families to stick to the restriction rules despite the early school closure, adding that it was in no way an excuse for earlier-than-planned Christmas gatherings. 

"It is absolutely essential that everyone understands this is NOT an opportunity to extend Christmas celebrations in any way, and I’m asking for this to happen to reduce the risk of transmission," he wrote in the letter to families. 

The council leader said that Royal Borough of Greenwich had provided for 8,000 meals in the form of breakfast boxes for children "across Greenwich" and would continue to help those eligible for free school meals. 

In his letter to headteachers, Cllr Thorpe meanwhile said that the Department of Education (DFE) was not backing the move but that the virus situation had forced his hand: 

"This is honestly one of the most difficult questions I have wrestled with during all my time as Leader. The DFE are clear this isn’t their position and indeed have issued directives to some schools.

"However, I cannot in all good conscience stand by whilst the numbers are doubling so quickly. If the numbers are indeed doubling every 4 days, they would do so again by this Thursday, exposing more people to risk," Cllr Thorpe wrote. 

To read the statement and letters to both families and teachers, click here

For the latest Covid-19 data in your area, click here