Covid rules in schools need a rethink, says health expert
Professor Russell Viner stopped short of calling for so-called bubble arrangements to be scrapped but said a balance should be struck between how much certain approaches might protect broader society and how much they might harm children.
The member of the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said there must be careful thought around putting restrictions on children as the one group in society who are not vaccinated against coronavirus.
The professor in adolescent health at University College London told BBC Radio 4 ‘s Today programme: “We set our rules on bubbles quite early in the pandemic, and we isolate large numbers of children.
“I think we need to rethink all of our rules about schools, all of our protections about schools, as we move through into the new school year, for a number of reasons.
“If all adults will be vaccinated – and we won’t get to 100% but we hopefully will get close – and if all adults are vaccinated and can move around freely, we need to think carefully before we put restrictions on the one part of society – our children – who won’t be vaccinated.
“We need to think carefully about that and we need to look at the evidence.”
Asked if he was talking about getting rid of bubbles for the new academic year, he said: “No, not quite. I’m not saying that.
“I’m saying let’s re-look at all the evidence across all the things we do in school, look at the balance between how much they protect broader society, but how much they harm children.”
The Department for Education (DfE) said it will share details on the approach to protective measures for when schools return in autumn “in due course”.
According to Government guidance as of May this year, schools must “do everything possible to minimise contacts and mixing while delivering a broad and balanced curriculum”.
They are advised to keep groups in bubbles and to maintain distance between individuals, taking into account pupils’ ability to distance, the layout of the building and the feasibility of keeping distinct groups separate while continuing to offer a broad curriculum.
Bubble arrangements are aimed at making it quicker and easier to identify contacts of positive virus cases who might need to self-isolate.
Staggered start and finish times, avoiding large gatherings such as assemblies or collective worship, and keeping distance within classrooms where possible also form part of the guidance.
A DfE spokesman said: “Schools across the country continue to have robust protective measures in place to break chains of transmission of the virus, including regular twice-weekly testing and keeping pupils in smaller group bubbles.
“We remain committed to prioritising education as we have done throughout the pandemic, and will share details on the approach to protective measures and Test and Trace in schools for the autumn term in due course.”
Daily coronavirus testing is being trialled in some schools and colleges as a potential replacement for self-isolation for contacts.
The trial will end this week and the Government said the results will be considered as part of any future use of daily contact testing in schools.
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