Swab testing in 80 secondary schools found prevalence was lower shortly after they reopened following the third national lockdown than it was during the autumn term. Experts said parents could be reassured that the risk of transmission was low but measures to reduce the spread are still crucial. The survey was carried out by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), Public Health England (PHE) and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM). They tested more than 7,000 secondary school pupils and 2,700 staff in 14 local authorities.
Around 0.34 percent of pupils and 0.19 percent of staff tested positive. This was significantly lower than during November, when the figures were 1.42 and 1.36 percent, and in December, at 1.22 and 1.64 percent.
A third round of testing was planned for January but had to be cancelled due to lockdown.
Dr Shamez Ladhani, a PHE consultant epidemiologist and the study’s chief investigator, said: “Results show Covid-19 infection among secondary school staff and pupils has fallen significantly from already low levels recorded last November.
“These findings are reassuring and contribute to wider evidence that shows the risk of transmission in schools is low.
“This also indicates the importance of public health measures in schools for reducing transmission.” Fiona Dawe, deputy director of wider surveillance studies at the ONS, said: “As we see the vaccine rollout across the country, it’s essential that we continue testing for Covid-19 infection and antibodies in school settings.”
Prof James Hargreaves, co-chief investigator of the study at LSHTM, said the findings were encouraging but some schools did report positive cases, “so continued efforts are crucial to limit infections entering schools and prevent transmission within the school site”.
Christine Brett, of the campaign group UsforThem, said pupils should no longer be required to wear face masks now that infection rates have fallen.
She said: “We have to stop scaring children into believing that they are carriers of a deadly virus when we know that this is absolutely not the case.”