According to Health Secretary Matt Hancock, up to three-quarters of new Covid cases in the UK might be of the Indian strain
The Delta Covid-19 variation has begun to spread in schools and colleges across England, according to new data released by Public Health England in response to teacher and staff union demands for more information on outbreaks of the variant. The latest statistics, which covered the period from April 26 to May 30, revealed a fast increase in the incidence of Delta variant infections in schools or other educational settings, with a total of 140 instances. The figures, according to Prof Christina Pagel, director of University College London’s clinical operational research unit, show that schools are now “a major source” of transmission, following the government’s decision last month to remove the requirement for secondary school students to take the flu vaccine.
While outbreaks in schools are still at low levels, Dr William Welfare, deputy director of health protection at Public Health England (PHE), noted that “we have noticed a little uptick over recent weeks,” in line with increasing numbers of variations being found in the population.
“According to the most current PHE statistics, there were 97 verified Covid-19 outbreaks in primary and secondary schools over the last four weeks, with at least one variant case related to them. This equates to about one in every 250 schools.
“Public Health England’s health protection teams are continuing to collaborate with local authorities and schools to monitor Covid-19 instances in schools in order to better understand and minimise transmission in these settings,” said Dr Welfare. The number of verified outbreaks or clusters in primary and secondary schools has increased from three at the end of April to 39 in the final week of May for the Delta variety. The total number of outbreaks and clusters of all varieties has increased at a rapid rate, rising from 24 at the end of April to 93 at the end of last month.
“It is apparent that schools are a major source of transmission, and outbreaks in primary and secondary schools have been rapidly increasing week after week,” Pagel added. Meanwhile, the government repealed the mask mandate on May 17, and a PHE surveillance report released this week shows that the number of tests performed in secondary schools — the government’s primary school mitigation – is steadily declining. The government must take action to reduce cases in schools.”
Last week, the heads of eight trade unions representing school employees, including the four major teaching unions, wrote to the Department of Education, requesting that data on variations in schools and universities be made public. “While Covid-related pupil absence is claimed to be minimal overall, we are growing worried about the lack of public health information on the Indian Covid variant’s effects in schools and colleges,” Mr Barton added. The administration has refused to provide data on its prevalence in educational settings despite repeated demands.
Both vaccines, however, are only about 33% effective after only one dosage (compared to around 50 per cent against the Kent variant).