South Scotland MSP Colin Smyth has raised his concerns about the new Covid close contact policy currently in place in our schools.
Two weeks ago, parents were informed that in line with new Scottish Government guidance, day to day activities in schools are no longer classed as generating any close contacts among pupils.
Whole classes are no longer being asked to isolate pending negative PCR tests when a classmate tests positive for Covid. It is only close contacts in a social setting, such as a sleepover or home visit, who will be notified by Test and Protect. Instead of pupils being asked to have a PCR test which is negative before returning to school, parents now simply receive a “Warn and Inform” letter from the school to inform them that their children may have been in close contact with a child who has tested positive for covid.
Speaking during the First Minister’s Covid update last Wednesday, Colin Smyth said: “The Government has, effectively, ended test and protect in our schools and that need for a negative PCR test before returning to school in circumstances where a student’s close contact with someone who has tested positive was in a school setting, rather than, for example, during an overnight stay, and they are not displaying symptoms.
“What assessment has been made of the extent to which that change in policy is contributing to the current rise in the number of cases, including in transfer between school and home?
“The Educational Institute of Scotland has called for a reversal of that policy. However, given reports that people are having to travel some distance to get a PCR test, and given the delays in test and protect following up close contacts, would we have the test-and-trace capacity even if the policy was reversed?”
Speaking after the debate, Colin Smyth added: “The First Minister denied that the test and protect approach has been abandoned in our schools but that is the strong impression that the new guidance gives.
“The new rules, combined with rising cases across the south of Scotland, are causing parents a lot of worry.
“Many parents are being left confused by the policy of sending them a letter to say their child was in the same class as someone who has tested positive for covid, without giving parents any real meaningful advice on what to do.
“People assume that when you are in close contact with someone with covid you have to self-isolate until you receive a negative PCR test. But that is no longer the case for school pupils if that close contact is in the school. It makes no sense that if a child had the same contact with another child with covid at that child’s home they would need a test but if it’s in school they don’t. I don’t think the virus decides whether to spread based on where the contact is made.
“It’s pretty clear to me that the reason this policy has been adopted is because the Government no longer has the testing capacity to keep up with the number of new covid cases.
“Instead of responding to the number of new cases by increasing testing, the Government has taken the decision simply not to test pupils who have come into close contact with someone who has tested positive in the classroom.
“It means we have no idea at all just how many pupils have covid in the classroom as they are not getting a test if they don’t display symptoms and therefore we have no idea the real extent to which they are spreading the virus especially at home.
“The Government needs to urgently review this change of policy and more importantly increase testing capacity.”