UK COVID-19 Update: Plans for All England's Schools to Re-open in September

Peter Russell

July 02, 2020

Editor's note, 3rd July 2020: This article was updated to include daily data that was supplied after publication.

These are the UK coronavirus stories you need to know about today.

Guidelines Published for School Reopening in England

Schools and colleges in England will reopen to all pupils in September, the Government announced.

Current restrictions on class sizes would be lifted, new guidelines said. However, schools would have to keep children in class or year group sized 'bubbles'.

Older children would be encouraged to keep their distance from each other and staff where possible.

If an individual tested positive, the Public Health England local health protection team would advise on the appropriate action, which could include small groups of young people and staff being asked to self-isolate for up to 14 days.

Where there were two or more confirmed cases in a two-week period, health protection teams could ask a larger number of other children or young people to self-isolate at home as a precautionary measure.

Restrictions on group sizes for nurseries, childminders, and other early years providers, would be lifted from 20th July.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson repeated his call for full, mandatory attendance from the start of the new academic year, which could mean parents being fined if their child does not attend.

Dr Jenny Harries, England's deputy chief medical officer, said: "Everybody wants children to be safe and thankfully as we have learned more about COVID-19, the evidence has shown that the risk of severe disease in children is low.

"However, although the number of COVID-19 cases has declined, it is still in general circulation – so it [is] important we ensure schools implement sensible precaution[s] to reduce potential transmission of COVID-19 and minimise any risk to teachers and their pupils."

Prof Russell Viner, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said: "Children are around half as susceptible to COVID-19 as adults and very rarely get symptoms and almost never get severely ill. The evidence from many countries around the world is that transmission in schools is very low. Most children catch COVID-19 from adults in their household. Individual children can pass the virus on and we will inevitably see occasional outbreaks in schools, especially if there is a rise in infection rates in the general population.

"Reactive school closures have a place in stamping out local spikes in this pandemic, but this must be evidence-based. The risks to children of keeping schools closed are high, and schools should be reopened again as soon as possible."

In a separate development, the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual) launched a consultation into GCSE, AS, and A level exams in 2021.

Sally Collier, chief regulator at Ofqual, said it was designed to "help reduce the pressure on students and teachers, while allowing them to progress with valid qualifications which higher educational institutions and employers can trust".

'No Obvious Cause' for Leicester Coronavirus Spike

An investigation found no obvious source of a spike in COVID-19 cases in Leicester which had led to the first major localised lockdown since the pandemic began.

Public Health England said while evidence for the scale of the outbreak was limited, it could be "related to growth in availability of testing".

The report by the Rapid Investigation Team was released in the week when schools in the city, and some outlying areas, closed to most children, and non-essential shops were told to shut their doors.

The report said a concentration of new cases was most notable in the east of the city, and included the North Evington, Belgrave, and Stoneygate wards.

However, there were "no explanatory outbreaks in care homes, hospital settings, or industrial processes to immediately explain the apparent rise in new diagnoses", it said.

Commenting to the Science Media Centre, Paul Hunter, professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia, said a high rate of testing might not be the only reason for the increased number of cases. He explained: "The most likely explanation is that the infection was spreading in people aged 20 to 50, and this generated greater demand for testing. 

"However, there is some evidence that the infection may now be spreading into older and younger age groups."

New Data for COVID-19 Infections and Test and Trace

Data for the first 4 weeks of the NHS Test and Trace programme was published by the Department of Health and Social Care.

It showed that since 28th May:

  • 1,401,801 people were tested for COVID-19 under pillars 1 and 2 in England

  • Of these, 26,905 people (1.9%) tested positive for COVID-19

  • 27,125 people had their case transferred to the contact tracing system

  • Of those, 20,039 people (73.9%) were reached and asked to provide details of their recent close contacts

  • 132,525 (86.4%) people were identified as recent close contacts and reached through the contract tracing system out of 153,442 people reported

Meanwhile, the Office for National Statistics today published its latest infection survey pilot.

It estimated that an average of 1 in 2200 individuals within the community population in England had COVID-19 at any given time between 14th June and 27th June 2020.

That equated to an estimated average of 25,000 people (95% confidence interval: 12,000 to 44,000) within the community in England having COVID-19 in that period, it said.

Of individuals providing blood samples, 6.3% tested positive for antibodies to COVID-19 (95% confidence interval: 4.7% to 8.1%), which te ONS said equated to 1 in 16 people, or 2.8 million people in England.

Daily Deaths and Data

Another 89 UK COVID-19 daily deaths were announced today, taking the total to 43,995.

There were 252,084 tests counted yesterday. This figure includes home tests that have been sent out but not yet processed. Figures for the number of people tested were last given on Friday 22nd May.

Another 576 positive cases were reported today taking the total UK confirmed cases to 283,757.

Reports of Faulty PPE 'A Scandal'

The British Medical Association (BMA) described reports of faulty and out of date PPE being sent to GP surgeries and care homes as "a national scandal".

Sky News reported on Wednesday that more than 80 batches of faulty masks were being recalled because they were out of date and had faults with the straps and nose protection which hold them in place.

The report quotes a recall notice issued by the Department of Health and Social Care on 26th June saying use of the Cardinal Healthcare IIR masks should be stopped immediately, and the equipment destroyed, because of a risk to staff if the masks degrade.

It is understood that the masks had been part of a stockpile built up in 2009 in case of a flu pandemic and their shelf life extended after testing by the manufacturer.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA chair of council, said: "If doctors and health and care workers have been supplied with, and worn, faulty, re-dated masks, this is clearly a dereliction of duty to ensure the safety of NHS staff and patients.

"Suggestions that these faults were known about in May, and yet action is only now being taken, are alarming."

"Wearing substandard PPE places doctors at risk of becoming infected and also spreading the illness to patients. We know that doctors and healthcare staff have become infected and died from this virus and therefore nothing short of 100% fit for purpose PPE should have been supplied from the outset."

Wales Set to Open Some Bars and Restaurants

The Welsh Government advised pubs, restaurants, and cafes with outdoor space to prepare to re-open on 13th July.

However, it said a final decision would not be made until the next review of the coronavirus regulations on 9th July and would depend on whether rates of COVID-19 were continuing to fall.

Subject to the review, owners of self-contained holiday accommodation have been advised they could re-open.

Future decisions about re-opening other areas of the hospitality sector would be made later and would depend on the success of the first phase of outdoor opening.

Views of Patients 'Ignored During the Pandemic'

The views of patients and the public at large were ignored in the early stages of the pandemic, leading to helplessness, and reticence to use services that followed lockdown, experts argued.

Writing in The BMJ, patient partnership editors, and members of the journal's International Patient and Public Advisory Panel, said: "Their input would have helped to mitigate the predictable adverse effects of massive service reconfiguration and lockdown, and emphasised the need for clarity on which services would be suspended and which would remain accessible."

The group acknowledged that while decisions had to be made fast, "policy makers' choice of expert advisers excluded those with expertise rooted in lived experience – patients, families, and frontline health and social care professionals".

Public and patient involvement was still largely seen as "nice to have", but non-essential, they said, but argued that these groups could have an important role in shaping future services in a post-COVID world.

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