On the surface, it might seem a straightforward case of weighing up which is more important: a quick recovery from the economic downturn caused by lockdown, or students avoiding the "generational catastrophe" that the UN Secretary-General predicted if schools are not reopened.
But this is not how the government sees it. According to numerous UK government sources who were not permitted to speak about policy yet to be announced, here's where Downing Street is currently:
- First, the calculation has changed now that we have seen exactly how damaging the lockdown has been to the UK's economy. On Wednesday, it was revealed that the UK's GDP had fallen a record 20.4% in the second quarter of 2020.
- Second, this is not a zero-sum game, one government adviser told CNN. "It's not the case of if pubs and bars are open X will happen and if you open schools Y will happen. If everyone is compliant with the rules of social distancing, cleaning their hands, you can basically have both at once."
- Third, the two things are not unrelated. "Schools are going back regardless, mostly because parents need to get back to work. Everything has a knock-on effect," said a senior civil servant.
- Fourth, there is still no clear idea of when a vaccine will arrive, and certain groups are still at higher risk. So if most people can go back to some type of normality, the focus can be on local lockdowns and protecting the vulnerable.
In short, the government might try to do everything at once -- even though public health experts fear the country is still not in a position to guarantee doing any of this safely.
Read the full analysis here.