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Suspected coronavirus outbreaks in schools almost double in last week

THE number of suspected coronavirus outbreaks in schools almost doubled in the last week, according to the latest Public Health England (PHE) figures. 

In its weekly Covid-19 surveillance report, PHE found that the number of “acute respiratory outbreaks” in schools rose from 24 to 44 — 16 more outbreaks than were recorded in hospitals.

An outbreak is defined as two or more people experiencing a similar illness, which appears to be linked to a particular setting.

Of the 44 outbreaks recorded last week, 23 tested positive for coronavirus, up from 12 confirmed cases in the previous week.

Secondary schools started to welcome back some pupils in Years 10 and 12 last week, after primary schools had reopened to more pupils three weeks earlier.

The rise “coincides with wider school reopening,” the PHE report states, but it also follows an “expansion of testing and contract tracing.”

Overall, the number of new acute respiratory outbreaks rose from 199 to 223. 

National Education Union (NEU) executive member Gawain Little said: “The government has mismanaged this crisis from the very beginning. We went into lockdown at least a week too late.

“Trade unions have played an important role in ensuring the safety of their members and, as a result, the wider society.

“These latest figures show how important it is that there is a clear plan for September that puts the safety of children, families and communities first.”

Mr Little noted that the latest Office for National Statistics figures show the rate of infection – previously reducing, as infection rates usually do over the summer – appeared to be levelling off.

“If the levelling off becomes an increase, it will call into question the whole proposal of a full return in September. Either way the government urgently needs to develop a plan. The National Education Union has a plan and we are ready to talk,” he said.

Elsewhere, the Scottish Green Party urged councils to perform risk assessments on the return to school for black, Asian and minority-ethnic (BAME) pupils and staff.
 
It came after the Scottish government advised health boards to conduct risk assessments for BAME workers.

Scottish Green MSP Ross Greer said: “Pupils, staff and their families need to be given every reassurance that their health and safety is being protected before they return on August 11.”

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