Experts warn that schools reopening could cause Covid rates to soar – with “high prevalence” expected by the end of next month after cases rocketed in Scotland.
Last night The Mirror reported that ministers have been warned schools could become a “cauldron of Covid” when children return to classrooms this week.
Scotland, where schools have already reopened, has seen a jump in infections.
On Sunday 7,113 cases were confirmed – the highest figure of the pandemic so far, with the country’s deputy first minister saying it was driven by schools returning.
John Swinney told the BBC : “Cases have risen very significantly within Scotland and we are looking closely at why that is the case.
“Undoubtedly the gathering of people together in schools will have fuelled that to some extent, and you can see that in the proportion of younger people who are testing positive.”
Although infections did not rise as expected when lockdown restrictions were lifted on July 19, scientists warn that the UK should brace for a difficult autumn.
In the coming days children will return to classrooms in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
In England secondary school pupils are encouraged to take two lateral flow tests at school each week.
Pupils who test positive will have to isolate for 10 days, but their close contacts will only have to isolate if a PCR test comes back positive.
Shadow schools minister Peter Kyle told the Mirror: “Next week, because of Government scrapping mitigation measures and the failure to vaccinate they have created a situation where schools will be a cauldron of Covid.
“This is so serious that if Covid does not tear through our school system in the autumn term, then it’s acting in a different way than it has been over the last 18 months.”
He voiced his frustration at delays in rolling out jabs to children aged 12 to 15, despite the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) declaring the Pfizer vaccine was safe for youngsters.
On Friday a document released by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) warned: “It is highly likely that high prevalence will be seen within schools by the end of September 2021.
“This may reflect either community or within-school transmission, and the role of schools in driving wider transmission remains uncertain. Regardless of this, it would be sensible for government to plan for this eventuality.”
Dr Simon Clarke, associate professor in cellular microbiology at the University of Reading, said: “We are likely to see numbers increase in the weeks ahead due to a number of reasons.
“Cooler autumn weather, leading to increased indoor social mixing, is likely to drive further increases in the coming weeks.
“The end of summer holidays and return of people to work and education, without clear guidance on physical measures to avoid transmission such as mask wearing or social distancing, is also likely to push up infection rates.”
This weekend Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said parents must take responsibility for ensuring their kids are tested.
He wrote in the Daily Mail: “School communities still need to follow Covid precautions, especially regular testing for pupils, families and staff. But it is not just a matter for schools.
“Parents too have a responsibility to make sure that their children are tested regularly.
“I know that there are many things people would rather be doing than testing but it’s really important to make time for it.
“The last thing we want is for schools to partially close again, or for whole classes of pupils to be at home self-isolating. That should only ever be the last resort.”