Covid close contact daily testing brought back for schools

Pupils aged five and above will be expected to take tests for a week under new national approach

Pupils aged five and above will be expected to take tests for a week under new national approach

13 Dec 2021, 18:38

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Close contacts of all Covid cases should take daily lateral flow tests for a week meaning they can stay in the classroom if they are negative under new rules introduced tomorrow.

School leaders were told of the “new national approach” in an email from the Department for Education (DfE) sent at around 5pm today.

It states fully-vaccinated adults and children aged between five and 18 years and 6 months should take a lateral flow test every day for a week instead of self-isolating after coming into contact with someone who has Covid.

Close contacts will be expected to report the results online each day and can attend school following a negative result.

Those that test positive should self-isolate and order a confirmatory PCR test. A negative PCR result would override the initial lateral flow test.

The daily testing applies whether the contact tests positive for “Omicron or not”. Staff who are close contacts but not doubled-jabbed should isolate for ten days.

Previously, close contacts of Omicron cases were told to self-isolate for up to 10 days, while close contacts of other variants were advised to take a PCR test.

The guidance states that close contacts will be notified by NHS Test and Trace. It is unclear how the service will know which pupils are close contacts without the school playing a role in providing that information.

Daily contact testing was suspended for schools in January. Public Health England said the balance between risks and benefits was “unclear”.

The use of rapid tests to keep pupils who had been in close contact with Covid cases in the classroom had also not been authorised to be used in this way.

The DfE told heads in its email today that daily testing for Covid contacts will “help protect education settings by reducing transmission and will also help keep pupils in face-to-face education”.

Test shortages could impact primary pupils

However, people in England are currently unable to order test kits online due to “exceptionally high demand” following prime minister Boris Johnson’s national address last night.

The DfE states that all staff and secondary school students should have access to a box of seven lateral flow tests.

Additional tests are “available through the standard ordering process” or can be ordered “emergency replenishment” via 199.

But tests for primary school children will have to be collected through the “usual routes” such as online, community test site or local pharmacies, DfE said.

Social media has today been flooded with numerous reports of people unable to access the ordering portal.

They are met with a message stating: “Sorry, there are no more home tests available right now. Try again later. Or, you can go back and try to book a test site appointment instead.”

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has warned: “Due to exceptionally high demand, ordering lateral flow tests on has been temporarily suspended to fulfil existing orders.”

It advised those in need to collect kits from local pharmacies, community site and “some schools and colleges.”

The guidance adds that for pupils with SEND who struggle or are unable to swab daily, “settings should work with students and their families to agree an appropriate testing route, such as assisted swabbing”.

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