Children no longer having school COVID tests could be behind falling infection rates
Written by Hit Music Radio News on 30/07/2021
Falling COVID case rates could be due to children and young people no longer being tested at school, as opposed to an easing of the pandemic.
This could impact the modelling being carried out by scientists in the next few months, as they prepare and advise on what could happen when winter arrives.
New documents from the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling, Operational sub-group (SPI-M-O) of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies highlighted the potential issue with falling numbers.
During term time, secondary and college age pupils took two tests a week. But this will not be mandated over the summer months.
Young people have seen some of the highest rates of infections in the recent parts of the pandemic.
The latest SPI-M-O document states: “The closure of schools for summer holidays is likely to reduce transmission overall but will also reduce an important surveillance data stream from lateral flow testing.”
It comes after the Office for National Statistics showed an estimated increase in coronavirus infections – in comparison to the government dashboard, which signalled a trend in the other direction.
The ONS estimate is built on random testing of the population, as opposed to the government’s reliance on people who are taking tests proactively – including those worried they are infected, children, and people who require a negative test for travel or work.
In the week to 24 July, the ONS estimated that 952,000 people in the UK were infected with COVID-19 – a rise of more than 14% on the previous week.
Meanwhile, the government dashboard – which has been showing slowing infection rates – reported a 14.4% decrease in the number of tests being carried out.
State schools in England and Wales broke up around 22 July, while independent schools finished a week or two earlier.
The drop in testing during the holidays can be seen in the May half-term and the Easter break.
For the seven days from 29 May, the start of half-term, an average of 673,229 tests were carried out per day.
In the week preceding the break, there were an average of 874,845 tests per day, and 879,193 the week after – signalling a drop of around 25% during the week off.
A similar fall was seen over the Easter holidays.
While this slowing in testing could explain the current drop in the infection rate, going forward it could signal problems for those looking to model the path the pandemic could take.
Dr Simon Clarke, the head of biomedical sciences & biomedical engineering at the University of Reading said: “Without school testing, we will see a significant underreporting of the scale of infection in wider society.
“This will certainly make modelling the infection into the winter and the flu season virtually impossible, with any accuracy.”
However, he caveated his statement by saying that, due to children being a “significant reservoir” for the virus, the breaking up of school will also help ease infections in some way.
The SPI-M-O document warned that “September and October 2021 will be a particularly risky point in the trajectory of the epidemic”.
“It is likely behaviours will take time to return to more normal levels and, if this coincides with the return of schools and universities in the autumn, significant pressures on healthcare could be seen.”
It added that there is a possibility of a “period of unpredictable epidemics” of other winter diseases, which saw limited transmission due to the coronavirus restrictions last year.
© Sky News 2020