'Rise in Covid cases' expected as Lancashire schools return but class disruption will be 'kept to minimum' says health chief
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Classrooms are set to be different as children begin their return to school this week, with pupils no longer advised to wear masks or remain in small bubbles by public health bosses.
These are just some of the newer and more simplistic measures introduced to stop classes from being disrupted if a child comes in contact with Covid-19.
Sakthi Karunanithi, Director of Public Health for Lancashire County Council, has said that a rise in cases is already being anticipated as thousands of youngsters return to the classroom, but that the council has been working with schools to prepare.
Updated guidance states if a child comes into contact with Covid-19, their peers must take a PCR test and will only need to isolate at home if it comes back positive.
He said: "We have been working with schools throughout the summer to prepare for the new term.
"We know that some parents are feeling anxious about the changes, which are designed to cause less disruption to our children's education.
"At this stage in the pandemic it is clear that the risk of severe illness in children and young people is low, but there are significant harms associated with missed education.
"With so much disruption over the past 18 months, it is crucial that we get our children's education back on track, and the changes should go a long way to minimising that.
"Children no longer need to be in bubbles and that means if there is a positive case, close contacts won't have to self-isolate.
"Instead, they will be asked to take a PCR test and isolate only if they test positive.
"We're also working with school leaders to ensure they have lots of measures in place to limit the spread of the virus, such as keeping schools well ventilated.
"And while face masks are no longer required in the classrooms, we are encouraging children and young people to wear masks on school buses and public transport."
All secondary school pupils are being invited to take two lateral flow device tests at school – three to five days apart – in England on their return to class.
And last month, the Government announced a £25 million investment for rolling out around 300,000 carbon dioxide monitors across state schools and colleges in England to help reduce the spread of Covid-19.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said it seems “bizarre” that the safety measures have been eased for this term despite warnings from scientists about higher cases.
He said: “There was a raft of mitigations in place at the end of the summer term and it does seem bizarre that we have gone from that too far less stringent measures this term, with little notion of how effective this will be and with scientists warning about the likelihood of an exponential increase in infections among school-age children.
“It does feel a little like a case of hit and hope on the part of the Government.”
Earlier this month, the JCVI, which advises all four UK nations, has not made its final decision on whether the 12 to 15-year-old age group should be vaccinated.
Dr Sakthi added: "Vaccinations are now available to anyone over the age of 16 and we are awaiting advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) around vaccinations for 12-15-year-olds, which could be a real game-changer.
"It is also really important that pupils and students test twice a week using the free, rapid lateral flow tests, and to follow the national stay at home guidance if you develop symptoms.
"We are expecting to see a rise in cases of Covid-19 once the term gets underway, but we are confident that the disruption can be kept to a minimum given the changes that have been made."