Pupils urged to take Covid-19 test before returning to school after half-term
By Eleanor Busby, PA Education Correspondent
Students are being urged to get tested for coronavirus before returning to school to minimise disruption to lessons and to ensure families can “enjoy the best” of the festive season.
Ministers and the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) are calling on young people to take a rapid lateral flow test before the end of the October half-term to help prevent Covid-19 cases from entering the classroom.
The plea comes as figures – which coincide with the start of the October half-term holiday – show that the rates of new cases of Covid-19 among schoolchildren in England have fallen slightly.
Pupils are also being urged to get vaccinated where possible – either at school or at walk-in centres.
Secondary school and college students in England have been asked to test twice weekly at home since returning to class in September.
A total of 1,201.2 cases per 100,000 people aged 10 to 19 were recorded in the seven days to October 24, down week on week from 1,388.0, the latest UKHSA figures show.
Dr Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UKHSA, said: “Today I am calling on all children to help themselves and each other by getting tested before going back to the classroom so that we can stop the infection in its tracks and keep as many children in the classroom as possible, continuing their education and developing their futures.”
Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said: “As we start the countdown to Christmas, testing regularly and getting vaccinated is the best thing we can all do to protect education and make sure we can enjoy the best of the season – whether that’s the school nativity or the family gathering over the holidays.
“That’s why I want to encourage every young person in secondary school or college to take a test before you return to the classroom next week.
“We have come so far in our fight against this virus, and now every single test and every single jab puts another brick in our wall of defence.”
Vaccines have been available to 12 to 15-year-olds in England since September 20, but so far the rollout has been delivered mostly in schools.
But over the past week, parents and guardians have been able to book Covid-19 jabs online at local sites for their 12 to 15-year-old children.
Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid said: “As students prepare to go back to school and college after half-term, it is vital that they are taking free and easy rapid tests that will help detect Covid-19 infections from those who are not showing symptoms to keep the virus at bay.
“Alongside testing, the vaccines are a huge defence in our armoury.
“We’ve already seen tens of thousands of people aged between 12 and 17 booking in for their Covid-19 vaccines over half-term at a local vaccination site to get protection ahead of winter, with more children expected to come forward for vaccines at schools next week.”
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “Last term saw record numbers off with confirmed Covid and it is clear that more needs to be done to control the spread.
“Testing is clearly important but it’s not a silver bullet. Investment and guidance needs to be there for all the different measures we have available to us: testing, vaccination, isolation and ventilation.
“Only by pursuing a wide-ranging precautionary approach can we prevent illness from continuing to disrupt education this term.”