LIVERPOOL, Britain, March 8 (Xinhua) -- Amid a mixed sense of nervousness and excitement, millions of children returned to schools across England on Monday under phase one of the British government's "roadmap" to recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
"I've missed face-to-face lessons with our teachers, and hugging my friends," said second-year high school student Elinor Greenwood as she looked forward to returning to her classes.
As a 12-year-old teenager, Greenwood admitted it could be tough for her and friends as she returned to Liverpool College, a secondary school, facing the prospect of schoolwork piling up and extra restrictions.
"I've lost half a year's education as a result of the closures brought about by the pandemic," she told Xinhua.
"Even now I won't be able to give my friends at school a hug and we may have to wear masks, which I guess is OK. But I do worry that there is a lot of classwork to catch up on in the coming months."
"I've had online lessons, but I much prefer face-to-face classes. I don't seem to be able to learn as well unless I am there in the classroom. I also miss learning in a big group with my friends, it's a sort of fun thing that way."
On Feb. 22, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced his long-anticipated "roadmap" exiting the lockdown. The reopening of schools in England from Monday is the first part of the four-step plan.
Under the guidance, secondary school students across England are to receive three COVID-19 lateral-flow tests before using at-home kits twice a week.
"So the plan to give us tests twice a week. In fact it's a good thing. I will also have the vaccine when it becomes available for my age group," Greenwood said.
Greenwood said she feels the country could have done more from the start, such as locking down earlier as other countries had done.
"I don't think the right decisions were made in the early days of the pandemic, but I also think we will have learned a lot from this and will hopefully be better prepared for next time," she said.
"When this is all over people will know how we can do things differently, learning from the mistakes we made during this pandemic. People will be studying this pandemic for many years to come." TWO-EDGED SWORD?
For teacher Katy Thurgood-Parkes, the reopening of schools during an ongoing pandemic could be a two-edged sword.
The art and design teacher traveled from home in Liverpool to her school at Ashton-in-Makerfield, a small satellite town close to Manchester.
"I look at the return in a twofold way," she told Xinhua.
"I fully acknowledge the importance and value of our children being back at school. It's essential for the social and development side of their lives. But I also have some concerns on what around 1,500 students all coming back will have on the pandemic."
"If I am honest, I think I would have preferred the schools to stay closed until after the upcoming Easter holiday period in April."
Thurgood-Parkes praised the way the school had handled the health emergency, and the way all of the restrictions and controls had been put into place.
"But the reality is what happens when so many kids head out of the school gates, head to the local shops to buy snacks and candies. What effect may this have on spreading the virus?"
She said she is happier knowing that the potential spread of COVID-19 through children -- many of them showing no symptoms -- had finally been acknowledged by the British government.
"But I do feel teachers have been seen as sacrificial lambs in the way the pandemic has been handled. Three of the staff in my department have picked up the virus at school," she said.
Thurgood-Parkes also fears plans to test all students several times a week for the virus will be problematic.
"It is going to be disruptive to lessons, and who knows what will happen when children have self-tests in their own homes," she said.
Making children wear masks may also pose issues for some children, especially those who need extra teacher support.
"I can't praise the school enough for the efforts made, but we have been faced with guidelines changing quite quickly."
Looking forward to seeing her students face-to-face for the first time in months was tempered with a sense of fear, the teacher admitted.
"I don't feel safe, if I'm honest," she said. However, Thurgood-Parkes said her passion for teaching remain unchanged even during the worse pandemic in living memory.
"I love my job and I love working with our young students," she said. MIXED REACTIONS BEYOND SCHOOL
With thousands of new COVID-19 cases still being reported every day, there has been mixed reaction to the reopening of thousands of junior and senior schools, as well as colleges.
Chief Medical Officer for England Chris Whitty has said "everything is strongly in favour of children going to school," with extra safety measures in place. These include testing for students and the wider use of face masks.
"The risk to children is incredibly low from going to school and from catching COVID," he said.
But the re-opening of schools was criticized by Professor John Ashton, a Liverpool-based global public health expert.
"It is pretty reckless for the sake of a few weeks plus the upcoming Easter Holidays. It would have made more sense to wait until mid-April to reopen schools," Ashton told Xinhua.
Calum Semple, professor of child health and outbreak medicine from the University of Liverpool, said Monday that it is inevitable there will be a rise in cases as schools reopen, but adding it was not so important if the virus reproduction number (the R number) rose slightly considering the importance of education.
Semple said the British government's approach is more about reducing the absolute number of cases going to hospital and needing intensive care.
Saying society needs to learn how to live with the virus, Semple added: "It's going to be difficult and it is going to mean some social distancing and face mask-wearing, good ventilation until really late summer when we've got the vast majority people vaccinated."
More than 22.2 million people in Britain have been given the first jab of the coronavirus vaccine, according to the latest official figures.
Another 5,177 people in Britain have tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total number of coronavirus cases in the country to 4,218,520, according to official figures released Sunday.
The country also reported another 82 coronavirus-related deaths. The total number of coronavirus-related deaths in Britain stood at 124,501. These figures only include the deaths of people who died within 28 days of their first positive test.
To bring life back to normal, countries such as Britain, China, Germany, Russia and the United States have been racing against time to roll out coronavirus vaccines.