The Department for Education’s programme of keeping close contacts of Covid cases in school if they test negative carries a potential risk of increasing transmission of the virus, a senior adviser has admitted.
Dougal Hargreaves told MPs today that the aim of using rapid lateral flow tests for daily checks on contacts of confirmed cases of Covid-19 was to improve attendance in schools.
The DfE's deputy chief scientific adviser said there was a “strong feeling” that Covid cases were resulting in too many pupils being off school last term.
Controversy has surrounded the DfE’s testing programme in secondary schools and colleges, which involves contacts of Covid cases being tested daily for seven days and remaining in school if they test negative, rather than being asked to self-isolate.
Giving evidence to the Commons’ Education Select Committee today, Dr Hargreaves said: “The concern that is worth mentioning here is about the separate programme of daily contact testing for those who have been in contact with the proven case.
“There, the aim is different [to the weekly testing of staff]. There, the aim is to improve attendance and there is at least a hypothetical risk of increasing transmission.”
He added: “We are all agreed there are potential benefits, we are all agreed that there are potential risks in doing this.
“If you are in a very high prevalence area, people are very nervous about the idea that people who have been in contact with an infected case are still attending schools, whether that is staff or pupils.
“Against this, we have to get the balance right because there was evidence from the children’s commissioner before Christmas that, sometimes, just one case in schools could mean up to 100 children and young people missing up to 10 days of school, and there was a strong feeling that the balance wasn’t right. That was a little bit disproportionate.”