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Millions of children return to school amid pandemic

19th Mar 2021
Millions of children return to school amid pandemic

(Photo Credit:Elf-Moondance/Pixabay)


Rachel Kayani

Monday, March 8, saw millions of children return to school. Most secondary schools will have a phased return as pupils are required to take three Covid-19 tests. Pupils in primary school will not be required to take the tests. The re-opening of schools, for the first time this year, is the first step in the Government’s roadmap’ out of the national lockdown.

After the initial three tests in school, which is spread over the first week, the Government has advised secondary school pupils be given two Covid-19 tests a week to conduct at home.

The tests will comprise of the lateral flow tests, where a swab is taken of the back of the throat and then inside the nose. Results of the test can be obtained within minutes and the Government is hoping it will add another layer of security to monitor and prevent outbreaks in schools, and perhaps, most crucially, pick up asymptomatic cases, which can be more common in school-age children.

Whilst the tests are voluntary, there have been concerns raised by many school leaders that obtaining consent from parents has been the biggest issue, as parents fail to respond to emails or complete consent forms or in some cases not understanding the testing procedures. This has left many schools with the additional task of phoning and contacting parents to ask for consent on top of the pressures of re-opening schools and ensuring they are Covid-19 compliant.

In addition to testing, secondary school pupils are encouraged to wear masks during lessons, previously students had not been required to do this. In the run-up to schools opening there was some uncertainty about whether mask-wearing would be compulsory, but Children’s Minister Vicky Ford said the wearing of masks in secondary schools will not be compulsory as some children may be ‘anxious and nervous’ about wearing them.

Getting children back into education is seen as an essential step in getting the country back to some sense of normality and for the education and mental health of our children. However, all schools returning simultaneously, rather than a phased approach, has raised concerns. A rise in coronavirus cases could well follow the re-opening of schools and the Government’s scientific advisory group (Sage) has warned that opening schools could increase the R rate for the virus.

Experts have warned the rest of the population need to keep following the rules of social distancing in lockdown and for parents not to mix outside schools. A rise in the R number or a significant rise in cases could mean the roadmap dates, as set out by the Prime Minister, be pushed back.

Over the next few weeks, the impact of schools reopening on the R rate and Covid-19 cases will be closely monitored. The vaccine rollout is continuing with 55-to 60-year-olds being asked to book their Covid vaccinations in the next few weeks. Whilst there is encouraging data suggesting that all vaccines used in the UK offer a good level of protection from the virus, many parents of school-age children will be in the age groups below 55 years and therefore not yet vaccinated.

Whilst this age group is at a lower risk of more serious disease requiring hospital treatment, a rise in cases will still lead to some hospitalisations and deaths. Also, people self-isolating can affect the workforce. The next few weeks are, therefore, key to planning how we come out of lockdown.

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