PHE official says there has been ‘slight increase’ of outbreaks and clusters in schools in recent weeks
'N onderwys union has warned the country “must not sleepwalk” into more disruption to education after “concerning” figures over the Delta variant in schools were released.
Paul Whiteman, the general secretary of the school leaders’ union NAHT, said the latest data “raises serious questions” into the decision to remove some precautions in schools last month.
Unions had been calling for data to be released into the Covid-19 variant in schools amid alarm over its spread and concern it could derail England’s route of lockdown.
Nuut data found the number of outbreaks and clusters at schools have risen in recent weeks, with the vast majority linked to the Delta variant first detected in India.
PHE said there had been a total of 97 coronavirus outbreaks or clusters in primary and secondary schools linked to coronavirus variants in the four weeks running until the end of May, representing around 1 in 250 schools.
The Delta variant accounted for 87 of these, the data showed.
The number of clusters and outbreaks linked to the Delta variant in schools rose from three in the final week of April to 39 in the final week of May, according to PHE, with the number rising each week between these dates.
Mr Whiteman from the NAHT said: “The latest data on the Delta variant in schools is certainly concerning, and raises serious questions about the government’s decision to remove some of the mitigation measures in schools last month.”
Secondary school students were no longer advised to wear face masks in classrooms or communal areas as guidance was removed from 17 Mei, as England eased lockdown rules.
“We have been hearing from our members that more and more schools are having to close multiple classes or ‘bubbles’, particularly in areas with higher case numbers. This latest official data release appears to support those concerns,” Mr Whiteman said.
“The government must be proactive and use all the provisions of the existing contingency framework to ensure that transmission in schools is not allowed to proceed unchecked.”
The education union leader added: “We must not sleepwalk into further widespread disruption to education.”
Dr William Welfare from PHE said: “Outbreaks and clusters in primary and secondary schools are at low levels but we have seen a slight increase over recent weeks, in line with higher levels of the Delta or VOC-21APR-02 variant circulating in the community.”
The deputy director of health protection added: “Public Health England’s Health Protection Teams continue to work with local authorities and schools to carry out surveillance of Covid-19 cases in schools to understand and reduce transmission in these settings.”
Speaking after the release of data on the Delta variant in schools, Geoff Barton from the Association for School and College Leaders (ASCL) gesê: “Any increase of Covid cases is obviously worrying, and there is particular concern about the infectivity of the Delta variant.”
Hy het bygevoeg: “We understand the reassurance given by Public Health England that Covid outbreaks have remained low in schools and among children following full reopening in March, and full credit must go to schools and colleges for their tireless efforts in managing safety measures.”
PHE said this week the Delta variant is now believed to be dominant variant in the UK and the number of cases had risen by more than 5,400 since last week to surpass 12,400.
Independent Sage, a group of experts, has called for the last stage of lockdown easing – due later this month – to be paused amid the spread of this new Covid-19 variant.
Professor Neil Ferguson, a leading epidemiologist, Vrydag gesê the Delta variant is estimated to be around 60 per cent more transmissible than previously dominant variants, while PHE said this week it could lead to an increased risk of hospitalisation compared to the UK’s Alpha variant.
'N Woordvoerder van die regering het gesê: “Attendance in schools remains high, and the data shows the steps we are taking to keep the Delta variant under control in schools are working.
“On top of robust measures in place across the country, such as increased ventilation in classrooms and keeping to small group bubbles, we have increased the availability of testing for staff, pupils and families in areas of high prevalence.”
They urged people to get tested twice-weekly even if they don’t have symptoms, saying regular testing is “even more important as pupils return to school after the May half-term to reduce transmission”.