Children of secondary school and college age in areas of north east London, Kent and Essex, where Covid-19 infection rates have been rising rapidly, are set to be offered targeted testing in efforts to reduce the spike in cases.
Rates in these areas are rising fastest among those aged under 11 to 18 years old, with hundreds of thousands of tests set to be offered.
All staff, students and their families in certain schools and colleges will be urged to get tested, with mobile testing units set to be deployed and home test kits distributed where appropriate.
Latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed almost 1 in 3 people in England show no symptoms of having the virus but are still infectious to others. Large-scale rapid testing can help identify these asymptomatic cases, breaking chains of transmission and driving down infection rates.
Schools and colleges will be provided with information on how to get involved, and parents or carers will be able to apply for tests using the online testing portal. Children under 16 attending a mobile testing unit (MTU) need to be accompanied by a parent or guardian.
The surge testing capacity will be deployed to help identity as many positive cases as possible, especially those who may be asymptomatic and unwittingly transmitting the virus.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “We want to keep schools and colleges open, because it is right both for education and public health, but in the face of rapidly rising cases we must act to target rising rates in secondary school pupils.
“From our successes in Liverpool and Leicester we know surge testing is safe, and helps us quickly assess where the virus is spreading most and take action to stop it in its tracks.
“I urge every student, parent and teacher in these areas to step forward for testing, irrespective of whether they have symptoms. While COVID-19 may be lower risk to children and young people, it still poses a significant risk to their families and communities. By taking these vital steps, we can get on top of cases and help bring transmission of this virus under control now.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson added: “This additional testing capacity underlines this government’s commitment to ensuring that education is a national priority, because that is in the best interests of students’ progress, development and wellbeing.
“I would encourage everyone eligible to access the testing and I’d like to thank staff for continuing to ensure that schools and colleges have protective measures in place to reduce the risk of transmission.”