Regular coronavirus testing of teachers will be prioritised under new government plans to scale up mass testing, according to reports based on leaked government documents.
The ambitious £100 billion plan, dubbed "Operation Moonshot", will prioritise regular Covid testing for people in "high-risk settings", including teachers, according to documents seen by the BMJ.
Schools will also be one of the "local sites" where testing will be rolled out, besides GP surgeries, pharmacies, entertainment venues and other workplaces.
Coronavirus: Teachers miss lessons through lack of Covid-19 tests
The programme, which aims to have capacity to test the entire UK population, is expected to “cost over £100 billion".
Coronavirus: Teachers 'struggling to get tests'
Speaking at yesterday's Downing Street briefing on the latest government efforts to contain Covid-19, prime minister Boris Johnson said that millions of people could be tested every day so they could “behave in a way that was exactly as in the world before Covid”.
But leading statistician Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter said the “huge danger” with Boris Johnson’s “Operation Moonshot” project was that it could produce a “very large number of false positives”.
Education and childcare workers are already on the list of essential workers prioritised for testing, if showing Covid-19 symptoms, using drive-through and walk-through test sites, mobile testing and home tests.
However, evidence has emerged this week that teachers are having a hard time getting tested, causing some to miss lessons.
Headteachers have warned that the problem will undermine efforts to keep schools open, while Labour's deputy leader, Angela Rayner, has branded the current testing system an "absolute shambles", reporting that people are being asked to go on a 700-mile round trip to be tested.
Commenting on Operation Moonshot, Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “We don’t know any more about ‘Operation Moonshot’ than what has been reported in the media, and we’re not sure how it would apply to schools and colleges.
"We hope that it’s not just another grand promise than proves to be moonshine.
"The urgent priority now has to be to improve the capacity of the existing test and trace system because staff and pupils are experiencing significant problems in accessing tests quickly and easily.”
James Bowen, Director of Policy at the National Association of Head Teachers, also highlighted that fixing problems in the current testing system should be prioritised.
He said: “Before the government start to make big promises about large scale routine testing they need to address the very obvious problems we are facing right now.
"The safe and sustainable re-opening of schools relies on an efficient testing system being in place. Clearly, the system is currently not working, and addressing that should be the first priority.”