Covid: Daily testing of school pupils ‘just as effective’ in controlling transmission, study finds

Coronavirus tests in school Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

Daily testing of pupils who have been in contact with someone with Covid-19 may be just as effective as isolating whole groups in controlling transmission in secondary schools, a study has found.

Around 200 secondary schools across England took part in the trial, which involved one group following the current 10-day contact isolation policy, and the other allowing contacts to take rapid lateral flow tests daily at school over a week instead.

The results suggested that daily Covid-19 testing in schools can reduce coronavirus-related school absences by 39%, with only around 1.5% of pupils and staff testing positive after close contact with a case in school or college.

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There was no evidence that the rate of students and staff developing Covid-19 with symptoms was different in the group doing daily testing compared to the group isolating at home, according to the study, conducted by the University of Oxford. 

Researchers analysed data from more than 200,000 students and 20,000 staff between April and June 2021.

It invited close contacts to provide a research PCR test for Covid-19 on days two and seven following contact, in order to determine how many close contacts became infected.

Under current rules, children have to self-isolate for 10 days if another pupil in their bubble – which can be an entire year group – tests positive for Covid-19.

Bernadette Young, clinical lecturer in infectious diseases at the University of Oxford and an investigator on the study, said they had expected daily testing to improve transmission control due to the “social penalties” attached to the 10-day self-isolation policy.

Dr Young said asking pupils to carry out asymptomatic testing twice a week, as well as naming friends they have been in close contact with, could prevent secondary students from being “more upfront”.

Commenting on the findings, Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser for NHS Test and Trace, said: “We’ve been trying to find safe alternatives, and this study gives us evidence of safe alternatives to isolation for school contacts."

It was reported on Tuesday that more than one million children in England were out of school last week due to Covid-19, representing more than one in seven of the total pupils in the country.

These included approximately 934,000 children self-isolating due to a possible contact with a Covid-19 case, 47,000 pupils with a confirmed case of coronavirus, and 34,000 with a suspected case of Covid-19.

A further 35,000 pupils were off as a result of school closures due to Covid-related reasons- the highest figure since pupils returned to school in March.