The government has halted an important part of its testing plan for schools on the advice of Public Health England (PHE), who said the balance between risk and benefit was "unclear".
As part of a program announced last month, employees and students identified as a confirmed individual's close contact were given daily rapid coronavirus tests Covid-19 case they could do instead of isolating themselves.
Experts have warned the plan could leave infected people behind schooldue to concerns about the accuracy of the Lateral Flow Devices (LFDs) used.
In a recent U-turn, the government said Wednesday that the introduction of daily contacts testing in schools would be suspended, as recommended by PHE.
PHE said their new advice was in light of the new coronavirus variant, which "increases communicability and causes higher secondary attack rates" and the fact that the "pandemic has entered a new phase".
With this in mind, PHE said, "The balance between the risks (transmission of viruses in schools and beyond to households and the general public) and the benefits (education in a personal and safe environment) for daily contact testing is unclear."
The PHE Explanation added: "Given this changing situation, we now recommend stopping the introduction of daily contact testing in schools, except for schools involved in further assessment."
A government spokesman said: "Following the pilots and on the advice of NHS Test and Trace, daily contact testing has been introduced as a substitute for self-isolation to keep the children in school as much as possible."
“NHS Test and Trace and Public Health England have reviewed their recommendations and have concluded that, given the higher prevalence and transmission rates of the new variant, further evaluation is needed to ensure that the goal of breaking transmission chains is achieved and reducing of cases of the virus in the community. "
They added, "We are therefore pausing the daily contact tests in all but a small number of secondary schools and colleges, where they will continue alongside a detailed assessment."
The government spokesman said daily contact testing as an alternative to self-isolation "continues to have the potential to be a valuable tool to keep more young people and staff in school" and the pilots will continue to "collect more data and build the evidence base" for the program ".
Geoff Barton of the Association for School and College Leaders (ASCL) said the union was "relieved" by the decision to suspend the program.
"This use of these tests never really made sense as it doesn't identify everyone infected with the infection. Therefore, we could potentially have had more infectious people in school than under the self-isolation system, where close contacts are sent home." Mr. Barton said.
On Tuesday, Dougal Hargreaves, assistant science director for the Department of Education (DfE), said the daily test program for coronavirus exposure in schools carries a "hypothetical risk of increasing transmission."
In one British Medical Journal In an article, experts said: "Scientists have particular concerns that negative Innova results (lateral flow tests) are too imprecise to rule out Covid."
Concerns have also been raised that the government's plan appears to violate the manufacturer's instructions for the test.
"Negative results do not rule out SARS-CoV-2 infection and should not be used as the sole basis for treatment or patient management decisions, including decisions about infection control." manual say.
"Negative results should be viewed in the context of a patient's recent exposure, history, and presence of clinical signs and symptoms consistent with Covid-19."
Robin Bevan, President of the NEW Apprenticeship Union, said Tes Earlier this week: "It is very worrying that the DfE has planned and continues to advocate these tests to make decisions about whether people should stay in schools and classrooms even after they have been determined to be in close contact with them." the virus.
“The manufacturer's instructions expressly exclude the use of the tests in this way. It's like they never read the instructions for use. "
ASCL said Tuesday it was "extremely concerned" about the use of LFDs in schools as an alternative to self-isolation.
The union said it wanted confirmation that negative results would not be used as the "sole basis" for infection control decisions, which was "expressly discouraged in the manufacturer's instructions."
In November, the government announced that a comprehensive clinical evaluation from Public Health England and Oxford University found the lateral flow tests were accurate and sensitive enough to be used in the community, including on asymptomatic people.
Despite the interruption of the daily tests for Covid-19 contacts, a government spokesman said: "Nothing will change in the introduction of regular tests with rapid cross-flow tests in schools and universities, which is already proving to be beneficial for the search for teachers and students with coronavirus Have symptoms. "
They added, "The regular testing of staff will be increased to twice a week during this period to provide further reassurance and break the chain of transmission."