Rollout of daily testing of close contacts paused in English schools

The rollout of rapid daily coronavirus testing of close contacts in schools should be paused, Public Health England and NHS Test and Trace say.

They say more research is needed on how it would work given the new, more transmissible, coronavirus variant.

But schools in England will continue to test those staff and secondary pupils currently going in.

A government spokesman said such routine testing remained a key way of picking up asymptomatic cases.

Mass testing in schools, using pregnancy-style lateral flow tests to detect the virus, had been due to start in January.

However under new lockdown restrictions, schools have been forced to switch to providing online teaching until February – although children of key workers are still allowed to attend – and plans were postponed.

How testing of pupils will be organised once schools reopen is still not clear.

The original plan announcing widespread testing, in December, was to detect asymptomatic cases and reduce transmission by:

  • regular testing of staff
  • daily contact testing for close contacts of infected pupils in secondary schools

The aim was to use daily contact testing to find out which close contacts were infected, allowing children who test negative to stay in school and only those testing positive having to isolate at home.

But some scientists have consistently expressed concerns that the tests were not accurate enough to be used this way.

And a statement by PHE and NHS Test and Trace suggested the new variant has also caused a rethink, saying it “increases the risk of transmission everywhere, including in school settings”.

The statement explains that “the balance between the risks (transmission of virus in schools and onward to households and the wider community) and benefits (education in a face-to-face and safe setting) for daily contact testing is unclear”.

A government spokesperson said: “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.

“NHS Test and Trace and Public Health England have reviewed their advice, and concluded that in light of the higher prevalence and rates of transmission of the new variant, further evaluation work is required to make sure it is achieving its aim of breaking chains of transmission and reducing cases of the virus in the community.”

Daily contact testing is being paused in “all but a small number of secondary schools and colleges” where it is being evaluated.

Regular testing of staff will increase to twice weekly to help break chains of transmission, the Department for Education said.

Source: BBC News