The UK government is expanding its COVID-19 testing and tracing plan to cover all high school students aged 11-18 in and around London as the city saw an increase in coronavirus infections in the last days.
UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said more details of the so-called “surge testing” program will be released on Friday after the fastest rise in infections among school-age children was observed. high school.
This group will now be prioritized for testing by the National Health Service (NHS) in the seven hardest-hit boroughs in London, in parts of Essex bordering London and parts of Kent.
“If we look at the details, the test and survey results show us that by far the fastest increase is among high school-age children, ages 11 to 18, while the rate among adults in London is pretty much flat, “he said during a 10 Downing Street briefing in London on Thursday night.
“But we know from experience that a sharp increase in cases in younger people can lead to an increase among the most vulnerable age groups later on. We have seen this before. Therefore, we must do everything possible to stop the spread among schools – older children in London right now, “he said.
The UK government is scheduled to review the current tiered system of coronavirus lockdown restrictions next Wednesday, when it will decide whether London and its suburbs should move from the current high alert level of Level 2 to the very high alert level of Level 3.
The latter would mean that hospitality venues only serve takeout meals and that almost any inter-household mixing is prohibited.
“We should not wait until the review that will take place on December 16. We need to take specific action immediately,” Hancock said.
“Having spoken to London city council leaders and the Mayor [Sadiq Khan]We have decided to put an immediate plan in place to screen all secondary school age children in the seven worst affected boroughs of London, in parts of Essex bordering London and parts of Kent, “he said.
The minister said schools will be kept open so as not to disrupt classes too much, but officials will work with schools and local authorities to encourage high school children and their families to get tested in the coming days through units of mobile test.
“I want to urge everyone involved to step up to testing. It is important that 11-18 year olds get tested in these districts regardless of whether they have symptoms – this is a really important point, because we know that you can have COVID, and you can still transmit it, even without symptoms, “Hancock added.
The NHS Test and Trace program has been conducting lateral flow rapid results tests in specific regions and sectors, such as universities. The move to expand the program comes at the end of a week that marked the first launch of the Pfizer / BioNTech vaccine against COVID-19.
Hancock welcomed the “help on the horizon” offered by the vaccine, but urged people to continue to follow the lockdown rules and not “screw it up now” because the drop in the number of cases has “leveled off,” including when the numbers start to increase in and around London.
The warning comes as the UK recorded another 516 deaths from the deadly virus, bringing the country’s death toll to more than 63,000.