School Isolation Rules Could End In Autumn, Minister Confirms

The daily testing of contacts of those infected with Covid could replace quarantine, Nick Gibb suggests.

School children who come into contact with pupils that have been infected with Covid may not have to automatically isolate from September, a minister has said.

Schools minister Nick Gibb said the government was looking at replacing the quarantining of pupils who have come into contact with an infected child with daily testing in England.

Those infected with Covid would still have to stay at home for the set isolation period, but their contacts would be cleared to come into school on days they pass a negative test, he suggested.

The Department for Education (DfE) has written to secondary schools asking them to prepare to potentially replace isolation rules with on-site testing in the new academic year.

It comes after the new health secretary, Sajid Javid, said on Monday that he had asked for “fresh advice” on the issue, stressing the policy was “having a huge knock-on impact” on children’s education.

The Children’s Commissioner for England, Dame Rachel de Souza, has called for bubble arrangements and self isolation of school pupils to end soon.

Gibb told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We’re actually trialling daily contact testing where somebody who has come into contact with somebody with Covid and is self isolating takes a test every day and if they are negative they can go into school.”

The trial ends tomorrow, Gibb said.

“We’ll look at the data to see if that is an effective alternative to self isolation,” he added.

Gibb said around 3% of pupils are currently isolating, an increase on last week but a lower proportion than in autumn.

He said measures were in place to reduce Covid spread in schools, including ventilation, extra hygiene, staggered breaks and home testing.

Professor Adam Finn, from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said children “don’t get ill very much when they get this infection so the harm that’s done to them by closing schools or by excluding them from schools far exceeds any harm they get from the virus itself”.

He told LBC radio there needs to be a “balanced response”, adding that “anything that can be done to minimise the disruption to children’s education is a good thing as far as I’m concerned”.

Currently children have to isolate for 10 days if another pupil in their bubble tests positive for coronavirus.

It has resulted in a sharp rise in pupils off school for Covid-related reasons, with the latest official figures showing 239,000 children in England missing classes – as the numbers trebled in the space of a week.

Sarah Croft, senior statistician for the Office for National Statistics Covid-19 Infection Survey, told Times Radio on Tuesday that the “main sort of increase seems to be in school year 12 to age 24 – so older teenagers and those in their early 20s.”