New Covid-19 variant fears force daily schools testing plans to be ripped up

NEW variants of Covid-19 have forced schools to rip up plans to test some pupils daily – and forcing millions to isolate at home again.

Ministers announced today changes to the rollout of mass testing in schools as part of plans to get all kids back in the classroom.

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Last December it was confirmed that kids and teachers would be able to get access to regular tests.

 The government had vowed to introduce daily tests for kids who came into contact with someone with Covid and if they tested negative they would be allowed to go to school.

Ministers said the massive extension on the Moonshot testing plan would put an end to millions of kids being forced to miss weeks of school on the off chance they may have the bug.

But health chiefs have ruled that the new mutant Covid is too powerful for the plan, which Gavin Williamson has been forced to ditch.

PHE and NHS Test and Trace have said the daily testing of confirmed contacts should be "paused" as "the pandemic has entered a new phase".

They fear the new strains are more easily spread even with the safeguards in place.

The Kent variant is feared to be 50 per cent more easily transmitted than before – with ministers also worried about the South African and Brazil strains too.

PHE said the "balance between the risks… and benefits for daily contact testing is unclear" at the moment.

The Government is under pressure to get kids back to school as soon as the national lockdown can be lifted.

Kids and teachers will still get access to regular tests but will have to isolate at home if a close contact tests positive instead.

Regular testing of staff will increase to twice weekly to try and crack down on school cases, too.

Ministers will continue with the policy in some schools only – and will use them as a pilot to see if it continue to work in stopping the spread of the new variant.

The Kent strain – identified at the end of last year – has seen case numbers soar across the UK.

This week The Sun revealed how schools are set to stay shut up until Easter – and some parts of the country will see them open before others.

And yesterday deputy chief medical officer, Jenny Harries confirmed this, saying schools in London and the South East may open quicker.

The PM dramatically ordered all schools to shut until the February half term in a bid to get rocketing infection rates under control.

But he has refused to rule out extending the shutdown, and ministers have indicated restrictions will only be gradually eased from around March.

A statement from PHE and NHS Test and Trace today says: "In light of this changing situation, we now recommend that the rollout of daily contact testing within schools is paused, other than for schools involved in further evaluation.

"This will enable the further detailed evaluation of changing circumstances including, potentially, lower infection rates and modelling work required to understand the benefits of daily contact testing in the this new phase of the pandemic.

"Schools should continue to test their staff regularly (twice-weekly where possible, in line with recommendations for other workforces that need to leave the home to work) and test pupils twice upon return to school, as has been the case since the start of January."

 

A government spokesperson said today they would accept PHE's advice, adding: "There is no change to the main rollout of regular testing using rapid lateral flow tests in schools and colleges which is already proving beneficial in finding teachers and students with coronavirus who do not have symptoms.

“Daily contact testing, used as an alternative to up to a whole class having to isolate if a positive case is detected, continues to have the potential to be a valuable tool to keep more young people and staff at school, the best place for students’ development and wellbeing. We will continue pilots to gather further data and to build the evidence base for the programme.

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