Mass coronavirus testing is being rolled out in secondary schools in coronavirus hotspots in North East London, South Essex and Kent from today.
The launch comes after official data showed pupils aged 11 to 18 were fuelling the winter surge of infections in the capital and South East England.
The Department of Health said ‘hundreds of thousands’ of swabbing kits are being sent to the existing testing hubs, as well as 37 additional mobile units being set up.
Fifteen 15 extra mobile testing sites will be sent to London starting today and over the weekend, with an additional 12 in Kent and 10 in Essex, to bolster capacity.
The seven London boroughs involved in the scheme are Barking and Dagenham, Hackney, Havering, Newham, Redbridge, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest.
Mass coronavirus testing is being rolled out in secondary schools in coronavirus hotspots in North East London, South Essex and Kent from today (file picture)
Five Essex boroughs will also take part – Basildon, Canvey Island, Brentwood, Harlow and Southend – but it is not clear where the tests will be rolled out in Kent.
Officials are encouraging all pupils, their families and teaching staff to start booking their tests, regardless of whether they have symptoms or not.
Where will school pupils and college students get tested?
The Government has unveiled more details on the areas in England where secondary school and college students will receive Covid-19 testing.
Staff and students at secondary schools and colleges in parts of North East London, South Essex and Kent are being urged to get tested.
The London boroughs receiving additional testing are:
- Barking and Dagenham
- Hackney and the City
- Tower Hamlets
- Waltham Forest
The Essex boroughs included are:
- Canvey Island
It is not yet clear where the tests will be rolled out in Kent.
People can apply for the tests using the Government’s online testing portal and will be asked to visit a mobile testing unit in their borough.
Children under 16 need to be accompanied by a parent or guardian.
Number 10 has still not revealed how often children will be swabbed and how many pupils it will affect.
But London’s seven hotspot boroughs are home to 640,000 children aged between 11 and 18, according to Office for National Statistics 2019 population estimates.
The five Essex boroughs have more than 55,000 pupils in that age group.
The deployment of the tests is an attempt prevent London and Essex being plunged into a Tier 3 lockdown — they’re both currently in Tier 2.
Covid infections are falling in most age groups but transmission is high in secondary school and college aged pupils.
As long as it remains high in these groups there remains a risk children will pass the disease to their parents and the virus will race through the population.
Kent is already in a Tier 3 but the county-wide infection rate is being inflated by a handful of districts with high transmission.
Officials said the 15 new mobile testing units in London will provide around 75,000 extra daily tests over and above existing capacity in the capital.
They added that an additional 44,000 home test kits will be made available for school staff including teachers to test before returning in January.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: ‘We want to keep schools and colleges open, because it is right both for education and public health, but in the face of rapidly rising cases we must act to target rising rates in secondary school pupils.
‘From our successes in Liverpool and Leicester we know surge testing is safe, and helps us quickly assess where the virus is spreading most and take action to stop it in its tracks.
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The £42,500-a-year school’s headmaster Simon Henderson wrote a letter to parents saying ‘a number of symptomatic boys and staff tested positive’ for the virus.
Mr Henderson said there is a ‘real danger’ the number could spiral out of control this weekend if action isn’t taken in a letter seen by MailOnline.
He did not specify how many pupils tested positive at the boarding school – which houses boys between the ages of 13 and 18.
Students will continue to learn remotely until the end of term.
The letter sent today read: ‘Having been largely Covid free since Long Leave, a number of symptomatic boys and staff have tested positive in the past few days. We are awaiting results on several others, with more scheduled to be tested.
‘We also now have a significant number of boys and staff self-isolating as close contacts.’
He said it was clear there is ‘Covid within the school’.
‘I urge every student, parent and teacher in these areas to step forward for testing – irrespective of whether they have symptoms.
‘While Covid-19 may be lower risk to children and young people, it still poses a significant risk to their families and communities.
‘By taking these vital steps, we can get on top of cases and help bring transmission of this virus under control now.’
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson added: ‘This additional testing capacity underlines this government’s commitment to ensuring that education is a national priority, because that is in the best interests of students’ progress, development and wellbeing.
‘I would encourage everyone eligible to access the testing and I’d like to thank staff for continuing to ensure that schools and colleges have protective measures in place to reduce the risk of transmission.’
Elsewhere, it was revealed that secondary schools and colleges in Wales will move online from Monday in a ‘national effort to reduce transmission of coronavirus’, the nation’s education minister said yesterday.
Kirsty Williams said the decision was necessary as the public health situation in the country was ‘deteriorating’.
The latest data in Wales shows that rates of Covid-19 have exceeded 370 people out of 100,000 of the population, with a test positivity of 17per cent.
The reproduction number – the R value – in Wales has increased to 1.27 with a doubling time of just 11.7 days.
The decision taken in Wales comes after schools in England were told they can take an inset day next Friday, so staff have a ‘proper break’ from identifying potential Covid-19 cases ahead of Christmas.
Mrs Williams said primary schools would be encouraged to stay open as ‘it is more difficult for primary and special school age children to undertake self-directed learning’.
It comes after yesterday’s news that schools would be allowed to take an inset day on the last Friday of term so teachers can have a ‘proper break’ from identifying potential coronavirus cases ahead of Christmas, a minister said today.
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The paper considered by Sage on November 26 said two days earlier the Liverpool Health Protection Board had decided to pause plans to use the Innova lateral flow test to allow care home visits because they were not accurate enough.
One week later the Government started sending out the tests to England’s biggest care homes.
On December 5 the chief medical adviser to NHS Test and Trace defended the uses of the tests, despite concerns around the accuracy.
Schools Standards Minister Nick Gibb said the Government wants there to be a ‘clear six days’ ahead of Christmas Eve so teachers and heads do not have to ‘engage with track and trace issues’ throughout the festive break.
However, the move was met with scepticism on social media – with one Briton asking: ‘Can the NHS staff have a day off as well?’
Another said: ‘A proper break over Christmas… if teachers have it SO hard they should try working in retail, my Christmas break is Christmas Day and Boxing Day.’
Other frustrated parents asked how they will sort childcare for another inset day ‘so late in the day’.
One teacher said on Twitter: ‘As a teacher, this is a pointless gesture. As a parent of a child whose school has decided to take the inset day, it’s too short notice.
‘I have no childcare so now I’m having to take the day off causing further staffing issues at my school. Utter madness.’
Another said: ‘This whole inset day thing is utterly bizarre. And it’s not just the tokenism. It’s also the timing. To the point where I initially thought the announcement was a spoof.’
One user said on Twitter: ‘How is this helpful, so late in the day?
‘Parents have to sort childcare for insets (as do teachers with children attending other schools). Too little, too late.’
Another added: ‘That’s great however where does that leave full time working parents in these pandemic times? No clubs… etc. I think we all need a ‘proper break’ teachers and parents, everyone included. A vaccine bank holiday?!!’