Wed | Dec 8, 2021

UK schools to reopen, backed by frequent COVID-19 testing

Published:Sunday | March 7, 2021 | 10:32 AM
An empty classroom at Great Academy Ashton, as the school prepares for its reopening on March 8, 2021, after the latest lockdown curbs the spread of coronavirus in Ashton-Under-Lyne, England. The school for approximately 1,300 pupils aged 11 to 16 in Greater Manchester will have to conduct around 450 tests per day on pupils and staff in the first two weeks after the return of students on Monday. (AP Photo Jon Super)

LONDON (AP) — British students, backed by a robust coronavirus testing programme, are gearing up to return to school Monday after a two-month closure, in what Prime Minister Boris Johnson says is a plan to get the country “moving closer to a sense of normality.”

The reopening of schools is the first step in the UK government’s plan to gradually ease COVID-19 restrictions as the country’s vaccination drive gains critical mass, with all restrictions lifted by June.

As part of the plan, millions of high school and college students coming back to UK classrooms will be tested for the virus for the first few weeks.

Authorities want to quickly detect and isolate asymptomatic cases in order to avoid sending entire schools home.

“We are being cautious in our approach so that we do not undo the progress we have made so far,” Johnson said in a statement, urging everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated.

High schools and colleges will be allowed to reopen in phases to allow for three rounds of testing. Students will then get kits so they can test themselves twice more at home.

The UK government has distributed nearly 57 million rapid “lateral flow” test kits to schools across the country, but there are concerns about the accuracy of the tests, which may result in pupils being forced to self-isolate unnecessarily

A senior public health official, however, said Sunday that the risk of a false positive was very low.

More than five million rapid tests have been carried out at schools during lockdown, including 1 million last week, the government said.

Evidence from testing over the past eight weeks indicates “the risk of false positives is extremely low, less than 1 in 1,000,” Susan Hopkins, the COVID-19 strategic response director for Public Health England, told the BBC.

“And a test that returns less than 1 in 1,000 false positives is a very good test.”

To help children forced into online learning for months to catch up with their education, officials are considering extending school days, shortening the summer holiday, or adding an extra term to the year.

British students already have a much shorter summer holiday than American students, usually leaving for summer break after mid-July.

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