CHILDREN who receive a false positive Covid test administered at school will be banned from the classroom for 10 days, it has emerged.
The new rules on the safe reopening of classrooms have been branded "ridiculous" by scientists who say there's "no rationale" behind them.
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Under the system, which started yesterday, all secondary students will be tested at school three times over the next fortnight.
Trained teachers will administer lateral flow tests to pupils, which turn around a result in half an hour but with reduced accuracy.
After the first two weeks back in the classroom, the same swabs will be sent out to parents so students can do home testing twice a week.
Ministers have admitted around one in every thousand lateral flow tests carried out returns a false positive.
Under the new rules children who return a positive lateral flow test that was carried out at home will be asked to take a follow-up PCR swab, which is much more accurate.
If that follow-up test comes back negative, they will then be able to return to the classroom immediately.
But students who get a positive result from a lateral flow test at school won't be entitled to a follow-up test and will have to self-isolate for the full 10 days.
Ministers say the discrepancy is because tests at school are being carried out "under supervision in a controlled environment".
But the policy raises the prospect that thousands of students could be banned from the classroom in the first two weeks back due to false positives.
If every one in a thousand lateral flow tests returns such a result, that would affect 6,000 students.
It came as…
- A union chief said schools could be forced to close again if students refuse to wear masks
- Experts insisted kids are 'absolutely' safe to return to the classroom
- Full details emerged of new safety measures in schools to keep lessons Covid secure
Deputy chief medical officer Dr Jenny Harries warned there may be "a larger number of pupils" coming out of school in the first fortnight.
But she said that situation should only last for a week or two before calming down.
And a top medical expert has questioned the logic behind not offering children tested in school a follow-up PCR test.
Professor Jon Deeks, an expert in biostatistics at Birmingham University, told the Telegraph: “There is no scientific basis for this, you will be restricting freedoms and keeping children out of school completely unnecessarily.”
It comes after Boris Johnson warned the return of millions of children to schools across England will push up the Covid infection rate.
But the PM insisted his roadmap out of lockdown is still on track.
Speaking at a Downing St press conference on Monday, he said the first day back was a success and reassured parents classrooms are safe.
He said: "We all know the education of our children is so important that the greater risk now is keeping them out of school for a day longer."
"We do accept of course there will be a risk of increased transmission, that’s inevitable.
"If you open up schools to millions of kids across the country that’s going to happen, but we think we can do it now the way we are because we have the proportion of the population vaccinated.
"And with the number of patients being admitted to hospital with Covid each day still eight times higher than the lows of last summer it’s more vital than ever to follow the rules."
The PM insisted scientists will monitor the impact of the schools reopening ahead of deciding on the next steps in unlocking the country.
But he was upbeat that it won't push his roadmap off course.
He said: "We will continue on this roadmap. At all times, as we decide on the next steps forward and when we take them, we will be driven by the data.
"There is a big budget of risk involved in opening schools today in the way that we are. That's just inevitable.
"We think it’s manageable, we think it’s right, we think we’re prudent to be doing what we are.
"The biggest risk is not opening schools now but we’ll continue to take a cautious and prudent approach."
Deputy chief medical officer Dr Jenny Harries warned the case rate is "still quite high" and is at the same level as the end of last September.
She said: "This is the level at which a new wave could easily take off again from and we need to persist with all of those actions."
Yesterday's return of schools marks the first step in the PM's plan to get the country fully out of lockdown on June 21.
Pupils up and down the country headed back to lessons for the first time since December, with a huge mass testing operation under way and extra Covid precautions in place.
Secondary school pupils are being strongly encouraged to wear masks in the classroom until at least the Easter holidays.
Primary school kids won't have to don face coverings, but extra guidance has been introduced saying visitors and staff should use them in areas where social distancing between adults isn't possible such as corridors.
Children's minister Vicky Ford said she expects most students to voluntarily use masks but insisted they shouldn't be forced to.
She said: "There will be some who will be nervous about going back, but we've put in these extra measures so we can make sure we keep Covid out of the classroom.
"That is a whole extra layer of keeping Covid out of the classroom, but we need to also set this aside against a very different backdrop to in January.
"We've had the fantastic vaccination programme. That does give us that extra level of protection against the virus as we bring children back into school."
Asked what teachers can do if students refuse to wear a mask, Ms Ford stressed ministers haven't made them mandatory.
She said: "Nobody should be denied an education because they don't wear a mask but we do really strongly recommend it.
"There will be some students who will be exempt from wearing masks and we haven't made it mandatory though we're strongly encouraging it.
"The vast majority of teenagers want to do everything they can to protect themselves from the virus, to protect their friends, their family, staff, and they understand the masks."
Union chiefs have warned secondary schools could be forced to close again if not enough children abide by the recommendation to wear masks.
And a leading children's doctor warned schools can only open safely if everything else "stays locked down" for at least three weeks.
But Ms Ford insisted they won't be closed again even if the R-rate does rise, saying that was the recommendation of scientists now that more than a third of adults have been vaccinated.
And she didn't rule out the possibility that children could get the jab in the future, saying Government scientists "will be looking at plans for the future' once all over-18s are jabbed.
Professor Russell Viner, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said reopening schools will likely add around 0.2 to the R number.
He said: "It's very plausible, in fact I think very likely, that we will keep the R below one with schools open with these mitigations in place.
"And I think the key thing is that children themselves, and parents, don't think 'the schools are open, we can relax, we can mix outside of school' – in a sense, come out of lockdown around the school opening.
"The modelling – and I think the Government has been clear on this – is about we can reopen schools safely if everything else stays locked down over the next three weeks."
Not all secondary pupils returned on Monday, as some schools are staggering the return to help with the implementation of mass testing.
A top scientist also moved to reassure parents that schools are "absolutely" safe for children to return to.
Professor Calum Semple, who sits on the Government's Sage advisory group, said pupils are at lower risk of catching the virus.
He acknowledged it was "inevitable that we will see a rise in cases" as a result of adults mixing because "schools are a place of work".
And he said advice for teachers "is going to be wearing face masks, being really careful in the common room – their colleagues are more of a risk to them than the children."
Prof Semple said: "It's going to be difficult and it is going to mean some social distancing and face mask-wearing, good ventilation until really late summer when we've got the vast majority people vaccinated."
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