Pupils and teachers across England will receive coronavirus testing to monitor the spread of the disease as schools reopen, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said.
With approval from parents and guardians, children will be tested to see whether they have Covid-19 or have had an infection in the past under the surveillance programme.
Mr Hancock is aiming to have up to 100 schools tested across England by the end of the summer term, with around 200 staff and children involved at each of those schools.
“This study will help us better understand how common asymptomatic and mild cases of Covid-19 are so that we can support parents, pupils and teachers and support staff, and inform our ongoing response to this new virus,” he said.
The results of this study will play an important role in informing wider surveillance planned for educational settings in the autumn term
The move may allay some concerns that the lockdown has been eased too quickly, as well as those from teaching unions over staff safety.
With children less likely to show coronavirus symptoms, swab tests would be used to better understand the spread of the disease throughout schools.
Antibody tests on blood samples would also be available for a small proportion of schools to see if pupils and staff have had Covid-19 and recovered.
The Department of Health and Social Care stressed the scheme would be voluntary, with parents and guardians being asked to provide informed consent before testing is carried out.
Dr Shamez Ladhani, a paediatric infectious diseases consultant at Public Health England, said: “The results of this study will play an important role in informing wider surveillance planned for educational settings in the autumn term.
“Through active surveillance, contact tracing and the close monitoring of any clusters of cases, we are committed to ensuring the safety of students and staff returning to school in the coming weeks and months.”
The Liberal Democrats’ education spokeswoman Layla Moran said the measure would be “too little, too late” as she called for the Government to get the test and trace system up to speed to prevent a second wave of Covid-19.
Children in England began returning in a phased process last week, with Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 pupils heading back first.
Under Government plans, secondary schools will start to reopen to a wider selection of students from June 15.