U.K. Minister Urges Cut in Isolation Times Amid Staff Shortages
(Bloomberg) -- Britain’s education secretary said reducing coronavirus-linked isolation times to five days from seven would be “helpful” for managing rising staff absences in English schools and businesses.
Nadhim Zahawi said that although most schools opened as planned after the holidays, the staff absence rate ticked higher as more teachers isolated amid the surge in omicron variant infections to record levels.
While the overall absentee rate is about 8.5%, up only slightly from recent levels, some schools are grappling with as much as 40% of staff absent, he said. “Staff absences in schools will increase, there is no doubt,” he said on the BBC “Sunday Show.”
Zahawi is the first government minister to ask for a cut in the isolation times. On Sky News he said any decision should “absolutely be driven by the advice by the scientists,” namely the U.K. Health Security Agency.
The former vaccines minister said the government is doing everything it can to ensure schools can stay open and exams, including GCSEs and A-levels, go ahead. That includes speeding up its school vaccination program and increasing the number of lateral flow tests.
Zahawi said the U.K. used to order about 100 million lateral flow tests a month but has 425 million “coming in this month.”
There were no plans, he said, to restrict such tests to high-risk settings like care homes, hospitals and schools. “This is absolutely not where we are at,” he said on Sky.
The minister said that as the pandemic moves into “an endemic phase,” regular testing alongside vaccines, boosters and antiviral treatments will form the key parts of the country’s fight against Covid and its efforts to return to normality.
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