Today’s big question

Is it time to end Covid isolation for schoolchildren?

One in 20 state school pupils miss classes on a single day as result of coronavirus policy

The government is drawing up plans to end automatic self-isolation for school pupils who come into contact with a positive Covid-19 case, according to reports.

Newly appointed Health Secretary Sajid Javid told the House of Commons yesterday that he had asked for “fresh advice” on the rule, as figures out today showed that 375,000 state school children in England missed classes as a direct result of the coronavirus on 24 June. This was the highest rate since schools reopened in March, equating to one in 20 children across the country. 

The Guardian reports that a new testing regime is likely to replace the ten-day isolation policy after the summer holidays, with ministers due to make an announcement in the comings days. Trials of daily testing are being carried out in secondary schools, with pupils allowed into the classroom if they have a negative test, even if one of their classmates tests positive. 

Schools Minister Nick Gibb told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning that the government would examine the data from the trials, which will end tomorrow, before making a decision. “We want children to be in school, it’s a priority for the government… but of course we do also have to deal with the spread of this virus and to minimise its spread in the community,” he said.

However, Professor Russell Viner of University College London’s Institute of Child Health told the programme yesterday that while schools played a role in transmission, they were “not the driver of this pandemic”.

Viner, who sits on the Sage committee, said that “infections tend to flood into schools from the community” and that the government needs to look at the balance between how much the current rules “protect broader society” and “how much they harm children”.

Dame Rachel de Souza, the new children’s commissioner, has warned against underestimating the “real trauma” felt by children during lockdown, and has criticised the schools isolation system as “madness”.

In a newly published interview with The Telegraph, she said: “All these children going in and out of self-isolation - that is a really big issue, and it’s incredibly frustrating for children and teachers.”

Many teachers “would like the government to go further and vaccinate pupils”, writes The Times’ political editor Steven Swinford. 

Ministers are considering the proposal but “remain non-committal” as they wait for the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation to bring forward its recommendation, he continues.

“But as other countries such as Israel vaccinate under-18s, the pressure on the government to follow is likely to grow.”

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