Schools are asking parents to keep pupils with Covid or symptoms of the virus off school.
While it’s no longer a legal requirement for those testing positive to self-isolate, the NHS guidance is to still ‘stay at home’ to help prevent the spread.
But it’s feared that some children could be sent to school regardless, risking a surge in infection rates.
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That’s why schools have been given new guidance to share with families, which makes it clear what is expected.
It states that if a child has symptoms of Covid, they ‘shouldn’t attend school’ and should get a PCR test.
If the child’s test comes back negative, then providing they have been fever free for 48 hours and feel well, they can return to school.
If it’s positive they should isolate for up to 10 days before returning, or can go back in earlier if they have two consecutive negative tests on the fifth and sixth complete day of self-isolation.
David Regan, director of public health at Manchester City Council, said: “We’ve all been through so much during the last two years, and our schools have done a fantastic job throughout the pandemic educating our children.
“The end of legal restrictions does not however mean the end of Covid. Now more than ever it’s vital that we all continue to play our part, and it’s important that we don’t let our guard down.
“That means following all the guidance to keep everyone healthy and safe at home and at school, and making sure that everyone who can gets vaccinated.”
In a letter to parents he said that schools are within their right to send pupils home if families don’t follow the guidance.
“School leaders can take the decision to send a child home/not to allow a child to attend school, if in their reasonable judgement, it is necessary to protect other pupils and staff from possible infection with Covid-19 where a pupil has symptoms or has tested positive,” he said.
In a live Q&A about Covid on Facebook, his counterpart in Wigan, Professor Kate Ardern, reiterated the fact that the virus is very much still with us – and that those who have been infected with an older variant are more susceptible to the current dominant variant of Omicron.
“The key message from me is that in spite of the fact that you don’t have to self-isolate, it’s not a legal requirement to self-isolate after testing positive for Covid, it doesn’t mean to say we should be complacent in how we respond to Covid because it’s not gone away.
“If you are exhibiting symptoms of Covid, please be sensible. If you feel poorly please do stay at home and look after yourself. It may not be a legal requirement to self-isolate, but it’s the wise and responsible thing to do if you possibly can.”
She added that the government SAGE (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) committee has predicted that ‘if everyone’s behaviour goes back to how it was before the pandemic – so if we just try and say that Covid’s not around anymore – we could unfortunately see another surge in Covid infections because we’re forgetting the hands, face, space, ventilate’.
Prof Ardern, Wigan’s chief medical officer, urged those pupils who can get vaccinated to do so adding if they’ve missed their school’s vaccination programme they can attend a walk-in centre to get their jab.
And while schools cannot insist on pupils testing for Covid, she encouraged people to continue with lateral flow tests where they’re available.
“We can’t obviously insist on it, but we would encourage people to continue with the twice weekly testing whilst it’s available, particularly over the next month ,” she said.
“But of course it’s not a requirement. Nor of course is it a requirement for children who are positive to self-isolate and school can’t require that, but again it’s about common sense isn’t it and about what you would do if you were ill – not just with Covid – but say norovirus, which is another thing that is easily transmitted.
“You would stay at home wouldn’t you and look after yourself. So although schools can’t insist on that, I think it would be, if you like, an expectation that if you’re feeling poorly, it’s best to stay at home and look after yourself and not transmit your germs to others.”
While face masks are no longer required in any area of schools, she said they do have the ability to bring that measure back should there be an outbreak in a particular setting.
The guidance for schools has been shared by the Greater Manchester Advice to Schools Group, chaired by Debbie Watson.
She said we all need to play our part in living safely with the virus.
“Children and young people suffered serious disruption to their education during the height of the pandemic,” she said. “This was far from ideal, but unfortunately it was essential that measures were in place to reduce the spread of the Coronavirus and keep people safe.
“Though the situation is slowly improving, it’s important to remember we are still living with the virus.
“It remains vital that everyone continues to follow the guidance on safer behaviours to reduce the risk of catching and passing on Covid-19 by getting vaccinated if eligible, letting fresh air in if meeting indoors, staying at home if you are unwell, taking a test if you have symptoms, and staying at home and avoiding contact with other people if you test positive, washing your hands and following advice to ‘Catch it, Bin it, Kill it’.”
Ms Watson, who is Tameside’s director of public health, added: ““The Covid-19 pandemic has been a huge challenge to education systems across Greater Manchester. The key focus throughout this time has been to reduce the disruption to children and young people’s education.
“I’d like to thank all our schools for the incredible leadership they have shown to pupils, staff and communities as we each play our part in limiting the spread of the virus as much as possible to protect the most vulnerable members of our communities.”
Has your child been sent home from school with symptoms of Covid? Do you agree with the new guidance? Let us know your views in the comments here.
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