Covid-19: New rules for schools in England to be set out

England’s schools will find out later how the government plans to relax rules that have led to large numbers of pupils being sent home if a single child has a positive covid test.

Last week the “bubble” system saw more than 375,000 children sent home.

It has meant missed days of lessons for thousands of pupils and frustration for parents juggling work and childcare.

The announcement will come amid a backlash to government plans to ditch rules on the wearing of face masks.

Labour, trade unions and some scientists have said now is not the time to change the rules on masks as case numbers continue to rise rapidly, driven by the new, more infectious Delta variant.

At a Downing Street press conference on Monday, Boris Johnson confirmed he intended to scrap the laws on mask wearing and social distancing in the final stage of England’s covid lockdown roadmap on 19 July.

The date will be confirmed on 12 July after a review of the latest data.

Other changes announced on Monday include the planned reopening of nightclubs for the first time since the pandemic began, an end to all legal limits on the number of people who can attend events and the scrapping of guidance to work from home.

On schools, Mr Johnson said Education Secretary Gavin Williamson would outline a move away from sending “bubbles” home and from contact isolation for pupils so as to “greatly reduce the impact on schools of Covid outbreaks”.

“If we don’t go ahead now, when we’ve clearly done so much with the vaccination programme to break the link… when would we go ahead?”

“And obviously the way forward is with testing rather than by sending the bubbles home,” he added.

There has been widespread concern that thousands of pupils are missing school unnecessarily.

Last month the number sent home from school for Covid-related reasons quadrupled – but only about 4% were confirmed cases, with most pupils sent home because of a potential contact at school.

Mr Williamson is expected to say the changes will come into effect on 19 July, alongside the lifting of other Covid restrictions.

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The PM’s message on Monday was it was “now or never” to lift the restrictions.

He said the success of the vaccine rollout had weakened the link between cases and deaths.

“If we don’t go ahead now, when we’ve clearly done so much with the vaccination programme to break the link… when would we go ahead?”

He added: “We run the risk of either opening up at a very difficult time when the virus has an edge, has an advantage, in the cold months, or again putting everything off to next year.”

On Monday, a further 27,334 cases were reported across the UK – and another nine deaths within 28 days of a positive test.

In a sombre warning, Mr Johnson warned cases were predicted to rise to 50,000 a day later this month – and more people would die.

However, Labour politicians, as well as some doctors and trade unions, have expressed concern that the lifting of the restrictions may be premature.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the government’s plan was “reckless” and urged a more “balanced approach” to keep protections in place.

He suggested the compulsory use of masks in enclosed spaces and on public transport.

Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham, who is opposed to the lifting of the face-covering rule, said that while he had the power to continue to make them mandatory on Manchester’s tram network, he would not do so as “I just don’t see how we would be able to enforce it”.

And Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said discussions were planned between Transport for London, the Department for Transport and other transport providers “before we decide our next steps”.

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Trade union Unite, which represents tens of thousands of public transport workers, said it would be “an act of gross negligence by the government” to end the requirement to wear face coverings on public transport in two weeks.

Dr Nathalie MacDermott, an infectious diseases expert at Kings College London, said that now was not the right time to lift all restrictions.

“If we give the virus a foothold now by removing restrictions, we’re probably just setting ourselves up for a bigger problem in the autumn,” she told BBC’s Newsnight.

“We should be waiting until all of our adult population – and possibly some of our younger adult population, or children and young people – are immunised, fully immunised, before we reduce our restrictions.”

Speaking alongside Mr Johnson on Monday, England’s chief medical officer Prof Chris Whitty warned this coming winter “may be very difficult for the NHS”.

Chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said the link between cases, hospital admission and death had been “weakened, not broken” by the vaccines.




At the press conference, there was also a suggestion that a new tracing system would be introduced for fully vaccinated people, with an announcement expected this week.

Mr Johnson said a test, trace and isolate system that is “proportionate to the pandemic” would continue to be used.

“You will have to self-isolate if you test positive or are told to do so by NHS test and trace,” he said.

“We are looking to move to a different regime for fully vaccinated contacts of those testing positive, and also for children.”

Vaccine passports

Mr Johnson also ruled out making domestic vaccine passports mandatory at this stage in the pandemic.

He said Covid status certificates would not be needed for entry to venues or events, but he said businesses might choose to employ checks of an individual’s NHS app to see their status.

On the vaccine roll-out, Mr Johnson said the gap between first and second vaccine jabs for the under-40s would be shortened from 12 weeks to eight.

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are in charge of their own coronavirus rules.

The Scottish government has said it may continue to require masks in certain settings even after 9 August, when it is hoped the final curbs will end.

Ahead of a review on 15 July in Wales, ministers said people would need to learn to live with Covid. Rules in Northern Ireland have just eased, with another review due on 8 July.

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