Mass Covid testing in schools rolled out in London, Kent, Essex today

Secondary school pupils and teachers in Covid hotspots in London, Essex and Kent will get ‘hundreds of thousands’ of extra swabs from TODAY as No 10 reveals 12 of the areas to benefit from mass testing to stave off Tier 3 lockdown

  • It comes after official data showed pupils aged 11 to 18 fuelling the winter surge
  • No10  said ‘hundreds of thousands’ of swabbing kits are being sent to three areas
  • And 37 additional mobile units being set up to bolster capacity in the South East

Mass coronavirus testing is being rolled out in secondary schools in coronavirus hotspots in North East London, South Essex and Kent from today.

It comes after official data showed pupils aged 11 to 18 were fuelling the winter surge of infections in the capital and South East. 

The Department of Health said ‘hundreds of thousands’ of swabbing kits are being sent to the existing testing hubs, as well as 37 additional mobile units being set up across the three areas.  

Fifteen 15 extra mobile testing sites will be sent to London starting today and over the weekend, with an additional 12 in Kent and 10 in Essex, to bolster capacity.

The seven London boroughs involved in the scheme are Barking and Dagenham, Hackney, Havering, Newham, Redbridge, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest.

Five Essex boroughs will also take part –  Basildon, Canvey Island, Brentwood, Harlow and Southend – though it’s not clear where the tests will be rolled out in Kent. 

Officials are encouraging all pupils, their families and teaching staff to start booking their tests, regardless of whether they have symptoms or not. 

People can apply for the tests using the Government’s online testing portal and will be asked to visit a mobile testing unit in their borough. Children under 16 need to be accompanied by a parent or guardian.

Mass coronavirus testing is being rolled out in secondary schools in coronavirus hotspots in North East London, South Essex and Kent from today (file)

Number 10 has still not revealed how often children will be swabbed and how many pupils it will affect. 

But London’s seven hotspot boroughs are home to 640,000 children aged between 11 and 18, according to Office for National Statistics 2019 population estimates.  The five Essex boroughs have more than 55,000 pupils in that age group. 

The deployment of the tests is an attempt prevent London and Essex being plunged into a Tier 3 lockdown — they’re both currently in Tier 2.

Covid infections are falling in most age groups but transmission is high in secondary school and college aged pupils.

As long as it remains high in these groups there remains a risk children will pass the disease to their parents and the virus will race through the population. 

Kent is already in a Tier 3 but the county-wide infection rate is being inflated by a handful of districts with high transmission.     

Officials said the 15 new mobile testing units in London will provide around 75,000 extra daily tests over and above existing capacity in the capital. 

They added that an additional 44,000 home test kits will be made available for school staff including teachers to test before returning in January.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: ‘We want to keep schools and colleges open, because it is right both for education and public health, but in the face of rapidly rising cases we must act to target rising rates in secondary school pupils.

‘From our successes in Liverpool and Leicester we know surge testing is safe, and helps us quickly assess where the virus is spreading most and take action to stop it in its tracks.

‘I urge every student, parent and teacher in these areas to step forward for testing – irrespective of whether they have symptoms. 

‘While Covid-19 may be lower risk to children and young people, it still poses a significant risk to their families and communities. 

‘By taking these vital steps, we can get on top of cases and help bring transmission of this virus under control now.’

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson added: ‘This additional testing capacity underlines this government’s commitment to ensuring that education is a national priority, because that is in the best interests of students’ progress, development and wellbeing.

‘I would encourage everyone eligible to access the testing and I’d like to thank staff for continuing to ensure that schools and colleges have protective measures in place to reduce the risk of transmission.’

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