Today, I would like to set out what the Government’s ‘Living with covid-19’ strategy means for education and childcare settings. As we move towards the endemic stage of covid-19, it is right that we empower people to make sensible decisions and trust in our fellow Britons to be sensible and look out for each other.
As of 21 February, all staff, students and pupils of secondary age and above in mainstream education and childcare settings are no longer advised to continue regular twice-weekly testing. This change is in line with the very latest public health advice, and because we now know that the risk of severe illness from covid-19 for most children, young people and fully vaccinated adults is much reduced.
Staff and students of secondary age and above in SEND settings, Alternative Provision settings, and SEND units within mainstream settings or equivalent in FE colleges are advised to continue twice-weekly testing. Staff in residential units in Children’s Social Care (Open and Secure Children’s Homes) and children of secondary age and above in Open Children’s Homes are also advised to continue twice-weekly testing. Children and young people arriving in Secure Children’s Homes should test on arrival.
The education testing delivery channels will remain open so that staff and students of secondary age and above can access tests if needed to respond to local public health advice, in particular in relation to outbreaks. Staff and students are also able to access test kits from their local pharmacy or via www.gov.uk.
Mainstream settings will be advised to use any remaining stock of test kits to ensure access for students and their workforce in response to an outbreak if advised to do so by their local health protection teams.
From 24 February, the Government will remove the legal requirement to self-isolate following a positive test. Adults and children who test positive will continue to be advised to stay at home and avoid contact with other people for at least five full days, and then to continue to follow the guidance until they have received two negative test results on consecutive days. In addition, the Government will:
No longer ask fully vaccinated close contacts and those aged under 18 to test daily for seven days, and remove the legal requirement for close contacts who are not fully vaccinated to self-isolate.
End self-isolation support payments and national funding for practical support, and the medicine delivery service will no longer be available.
End routine contact tracing. Contacts will no longer be required to self-isolate or advised to take daily tests. Staff, children and young people should attend their education settings as usual. This includes staff who have been in close contact within their household, unless they are able to work from home.
End the legal obligation for individuals to tell their employers when they are required to self- isolate.
As part of the Government’s decision in January 2022 to move back to Plan A, face coverings are no longer recommended in classrooms, teaching spaces and communal areas. Directors of Public Health may recommend temporarily re-introducing precautionary measures such as face coverings or testing in individual settings or across an area, informing my Department of their intention to do so to ensure any extra measures are proportionate.
We have now exceeded our public commitment to deliver 300,000 CO2 monitors, with over 360,000 monitors delivered in the autumn term. We are also making up to 9,000 air cleaning devices available to all of those settings that need them. Over 6,000 have already been successfully delivered to eligible settings; the majority of the remaining deliveries will be completed by the end of February. And we continue to share advice and best practice on how settings can ensure that their occupied spaces are adequately ventilated, including a short video clip we recently filmed with Professor Cath Noakes, Professor of Environmental Engineering for Buildings.
From my previous role as vaccines Minister, overseeing one of the fastest roll outs in Europe, I know the importance of the vaccination programme in the fight against covid-19. Vaccinations remain our very best line of defence and I continue to encourage all eligible staff and students aged 12 and over to take up the offer of a vaccine to protect themselves and those around them. The recent extension of the programme to all five to 11-year-olds will enable all school-aged children to be vaccinated. The NHS will prepare to extend this non-urgent offer to all children during April so parents can, if they want, take up the offer to increase protection against potential future waves of covid-19 as we learn to live with this virus. This group will be offered two 10 microgram doses of the Pfizer vaccine eight weeks apart—a third of the amount used for adult vaccinations. The Government have also announced today that we have accepted the advice from the independent Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation to offer, from spring, an additional covid-19 booster jab to people aged 75 years and over, residents in care homes for older adults, and people aged 12 years and over who are immunosuppressed.
Vaccines are critical as a first line of defence, and antivirals now form a vital part of our approach as we learn to live with covid-19 by preventing the most vulnerable from being hospitalised. The Government have therefore agreed deals to secure a total of 4.98 million patient courses of oral antiviral treatments in our efforts to reduce the impact of covid-19 and the Omicron variant across the UK.
While we make this shift to living with covid-19, we know that education and childcare settings may continue to experience workforce pressures. To help with this, the covid-19 workforce fund has now been extended, providing financial support to eligible schools and colleges for costs incurred due to staff absences from Monday 22 November 2021 until Friday 8 April 2022. The fund is available to support schools and colleges facing significant staffing and funding pressures in continuing to deliver high-quality face-to-face education to all pupils.
Updated guidance for all education and childcare settings will be published in line with the implementation of the ‘Living with covid-19’ plan.
Finally, I want to acknowledge the incredible efforts of the education and childcare settings who have continued to provide provision and support to children and young people throughout the pandemic.