Ministers set to end automatic student isolation in England

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Hundreds of thousands of students will no longer have to self-isolate after contact with a positive Covid case when returning from schools in September in England, ministers are expected to announce.

A quarter of a million children have missed school in a single week due to coronavirus infections, self-isolation or school closures this month – the most disrupted week since the full reopening of schools. schools across the country in March.

It came as new Health Secretary Sajid Javid said most of the Covid restrictions in England “must end” on July 19.

Speaking to MPs as the UK recorded 22,868 daily Covid cases – the highest since the end of January – and three deaths, Javid insisted that July 19 would be the ‘end of the line’ for them. limits social gatherings and said his priority would be to try to “make the economic and cultural life that makes this country great”.

But, in a move likely to anger some conservative backbenchers, he did not rule out keeping measures such as masks and social distancing in place.

The Guardian understands ministers plan to overhaul the student system, whereby they are separated into bubbles – sometimes numbering more than 200 children – and forced to quarantine themselves at home if a member of their group tests positive for Covid .

An announcement is expected to be made in the coming days to give schools time to prepare for the September return, which may be replaced by a testing regime.

A senior government source said: “We will have a different system when schools return in September, which combines proportionate protections when a person tests positive with trying as much as possible to keep schools open. “

While the government is still awaiting the final opinion of the Joint Committee on Immunization and Immunization on whether to vaccinate those under the age of 18, the source said there was a window during the school holidays to vaccinate the older ones. 16 years old before returning to school, in case of vaccination. is recommended by the committee.

Schools Minister Nick Gibb wrote to principals on Monday warning them to prepare for the return of Covid testing on site in the new school year. Test kits and personal protective equipment for use at the start of the fall term will begin shipping from Tuesday.

Secondary schools set up testing sites in March when children returned to class after England’s third lockdown, but after three on-site tests, students were tested at home.

Javid used his first performance at the dispatch box since February 2020 to polish his credentials as the firm’s new ‘hawk’ and present himself as more eager than his predecessor, Matt Hancock, to pursue the lifting of restrictions more quickly.

He said the “great task” he would undertake was to “restore our freedoms” which “except in the greatest circumstances no government should wish to restrict”. Hancock resigned as health secretary on Saturday after breaking social distancing rules and raising conflict of interest concerns over an affair with an assistant.

Protecting life and the NHS remains important, Javid told MPs, but added the coronavirus would not be wiped out and ministers and the public need to ‘learn to live with it’.

Tory MPs broadly hailed Hancock’s replacement with an experienced secretary of state who headed five ministries, including the Treasury and the Home Office. But they urged him to offer specific guarantees.

Steve Brine, former health minister, said he “seeks a change in policy as much as a change of tone” and called for an overhaul of the rules on isolation bubbles. “Haven’t our young people suffered enough? He asked. “Are we really going to keep doing this to each other?” “

Jason McCartney, MP for Colne Valley, said children and families were forced to self-isolate up to four times in a matter of months. He said it “had a huge impact on education, mental health and well-being” and called for additional PCR testing and a new approach to policy.

Areas of northern England have been hit particularly hard by the rise in the number of isolated children, with government figures showing one in 30 children in public schools was not in class on June 17. This included 9,000 students with confirmed Covid, 16,000 with suspected coronavirus and more than 7,000 whose schools had closed due to outbreaks.

Javid revealed that he asked for “new advice” on the matter and that the current rules were decided on the basis of “the data available at the time”, adding: “Obviously the data is changing all the time. and we have to make sure we keep that under review.

He said he wants to implement the pilot in place in some local authorities, where people are tested on a daily basis instead of needing to isolate themselves. But he did not promise Conservative MPs that all restrictions would be lifted next month.

Mark Harper, the chairman of the Covid Recovery Group, said he was told some government figures were “paving the way for the return of restrictions in the fall and winter” and urged Javid to rule out further lockdowns later in the day. year, but the Health Secretary only said he intended to “remove all restrictions as quickly as possible.”

Javid also sought to defend himself against probable accusations of optimism during the fourth stage of the July 19 unlock, insisting: “No date we choose carries zero risk for Covid. In the fourth stage, nightclubs are to reopen and the limits on indoor mixing and major events are to be dropped.

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