Schools: Coronavirus

Department for Education written question – answered on 8th June 2021.

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Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Labour, Eltham

To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what data he held on the (a) aggregate number of cases, (b) incidence and (c) location of the coronavirus variant B.1.617.2 linked to schools up to 10 May 2021 when the Government made the announcement to remove requirements for face coverings in schools.

Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Labour, Eltham

To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what information he received from Public Health England on the (a) aggregate number of covid-19 cases and (b) incidence and location of Coronavirus variant B.1.617.2 linked to schools before 10 May 2021 prior to the decision to remove the requirement for face coverings to be worn in schools.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Minister of State (Education)

Data on variants of concern is held by the Department of Health and Social Care, where Public Health England (PHE) leads on surveillance and outbreak management. Data on variants, including the Delta variant (B.1.617.2), was considered by the Government as part of meeting the four tests, in making the decision to proceed with Step 3 of the roadmap announced on 10 May.

PHE has published a technical briefing on COVID-19 variants of concern and variants under investigation in England, which is available here: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/991343/Variants_of_Concern_VOC_Technical_Briefing_14.pdf. This sets out (page 36-45) data on the number of clusters or outbreaks associated with a range of settings, including education settings, covering the latest available data and the period prior to the decision and announcement on Step 3.

PHE also publishes the total number of cases of each variant in the UK as part of information on variants of COVID-19, which is available here: https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/new-sars-cov-2-variant. This includes total confirmed Delta variant cases and prevalence split by region, as part of PHE weekly technical briefings, covering the latest available data and previously the period prior to the decision and announcement on Step 3.

The Government’s decision that face coverings no longer need to be worn in classrooms by staff, pupils or students, or in corridors or communal areas by pupils and students, was made in line with Step 3 of the roadmap. When the policy on face coverings in classrooms was introduced, this was an appropriate precautionary temporary measure while rates of infection were high in the community. As the four tests for easing restrictions in Step 3 of the roadmap were met, it was an appropriate time to remove the recommendation. In all schools we continue to recommend that face coverings should be worn by staff and visitors in situations outside of classrooms where social distancing is not possible.

While this moves children towards a greater sense of normality, measures within the PHE-supported system of controls remain very important to reduce transmission in schools, for example, social distancing and regular hand washing. Regular rapid testing will also continue to help find and isolate asymptomatic cases when they do occur, and we continue to encourage everyone to play their part and test themselves twice each week.

The reintroduction of face coverings for pupils, students or staff may be advised for a temporary period in response to localised outbreaks, including variants of concern. In all cases, any educational drawbacks should be balanced with the benefits of managing transmission. The Local Action Committee structure (bronze/silver/gold) should be used in such circumstances to re-introduce the use of face coverings. Immediate outbreak response (at the level of individual settings or a cluster of settings) remains for local directors of public health to advise on.

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