Covid: Rates 'soaring' where schools returned earlier

Virus has 'really accelerated' in pupils in Leicestershire, where autumn term started earlier than average, experts say

Amy Gibbons

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Covid rates are "really soaring" among pupils in Leicestershire, where schools went back 10 days before most others in England, scientists have warned.

In a briefing this afternoon, the Independent SAGE group tracked Covid cases among different age groups in the weeks to 11 September – pointing to particularly high rates among students who went back to school before most of their peers.

Presenting the data, Christina Pagel, professor of operational research at University College London, suggested the area might be "a couple of weeks ahead of the rest of England".

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"Schools in Leicestershire went back on 23 August, so they go back about 10 days earlier than the rest of England," she said.

Pointing to case rates by age in Leicestershire, Professor Pagel said that the prevalence of the virus had "really accelerated" in pupils, particularly those aged 5 to 15, since schools went back.

"It kind of took a week or two before it really started going up, whereas case rates in other age groups are flat or falling, particularly in this 20- to 29-year-old group where I do think the vaccine protection is now really starting to kick in," she said.

"So the question is whether Leicester is just a couple of weeks ahead of the rest of England, and we've seen already that case rates in school-aged children are really high in Scotland – we looked at that last week, although they are starting to come down a bit there now."

Professor Pagel said that, in England, rates among 10- to 14-year-olds and 5- to 9-year-olds have "definitely gone up since the start of term" and are now "high and flat".

"So although overall cases are kind of flat or falling in England, they are still high and going up in school-aged children," she said.

She added: "Leicestershire schools went back on 23 August and are showing really soaring case rates in children...over 1.5 per cent testing positive every week at the moment."

Professor Pagel's analysis came on the same day the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported that secondary school students had the highest Covid positivity rate of any group last week.

Heads' leaders said the news meant the latest Covid vaccine drive for 12- to 15-year-olds "really cannot come soon enough", as they reiterated calls for a "public information campaign" from the government to encourage regular testing and funding for ventilation in schools.

Julie McCulloch, director of policy at the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "There was always likely to be an increase in Covid infections among school-age children when schools returned after the summer holidays and indeed the SAGE modelling group warned that an exponential increase was highly likely.

"This isn't necessarily because of transmission in school but because of the mixing of children as they move to and from school which is particularly the case with older children.

"It does show that the vaccination programme for 12 to 15-year-olds really cannot come soon enough and hopefully there is still time to put the brakes on the rate of infection or at least slow it down and avoid large-scale disruption."

She added: "We are also calling on the government to back this up with other action, specifically, a public information campaign to encourage twice-weekly home testing, funding for ventilation systems in education settings, and a commitment to provide more support to schools and colleges for any resumption of on-site testing that is directed under the contingency framework."

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Amy Gibbons

Amy Gibbons

Amy Gibbons is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @tweetsbyames

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