England’s Schools Look to End Isolation Rule as Cases Rise

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British officials are preparing to scrap the 10-day self-isolation requirement for schoolchildren in England who come into contact with a positive case of coronavirus, a policy which is disrupting education and adding to the strain on working parents.

“We are conducting trials of daily contact testing as a possible alternative to self-isolation,” Schools Minister Nick Gibb said on Sky News on Tuesday. An announcement on the change will be made before July 19, he said. Another policy being considered is extending the school-day by half an hour, Gibb said.

Latest data from June 17 showed more than 170,000 students in England isolating because of a potential contact with someone who had the virus, about 2% of the total in state-funded schools. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government has come under increasing pressure from parents and Conservative backbenchers to reform the rules due to the disruption the isolation is causing.

New coronavirus cases have reached their highest level since January and the government is determined to lift remaining restrictions on social distancing from July 19. That’s because the U.K.’s successful vaccine program helps prevent transmission and serious illness.

But the difficulty is that school children are not receiving doses and whole classes are being sent home to prevent the spread of the disease if one pupil is infected. Working parents then need to juggle their jobs with helping their children to study at home putting individuals and their employers under strain.

New Health Secretary Sajid Javid said in his first statement to the House of Commons that he had asked officials to review the policy. The self-isolation requirement is having “a huge knock-on impact on their education, and none of us wants to see that,” he said on Monday. “I have already asked for fresh advice from my department.”

Johnson’s plans to help students catch up on lost learning have already been criticized. His education czar resigned earlier this month over a lack of government funding.

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