Secondary school children to be tested in worst Covid-19 regions – Hancock

Secondary school-age children in the worst affected parts of England are to be tested for coronavirus in a bid to bring down "worrying" rates of infection, the Health Secretary has said.

In a Downing Street briefing, Matt Hancock said he was concerned about London, Kent and Essex in particular, and immediate action was needed rather than waiting for a review of current rules on December 16.

It comes after London Mayor Sadiq Khan said the harshest Tier 3 coronavirus restrictions would be "catastrophic" for the capital.

Weekly rate of new Covid-19 cases in London
Weekly rate of new Covid-19 cases in London

Public Health England (PHE) data analysed by the PA news agency shows case rates are currently rising in a majority of local areas in England, including 31 of 32 London boroughs.

The weekly rate of new Covid-19 cases in the London borough of Havering has risen above 400 cases per 100,000 people, making it one of the highest rates in England.

A total of 1,040 new cases were recorded in Havering in the seven days to December 6 – the equivalent of 400.7 cases per 100,000.

This is up from 753 new cases in the previous seven days, or 290.1 per 100,000.

Havering now has the eighth highest rate of any local authority area in England.

Along with Havering, three other London boroughs are now among the top 20 highest rates in England: Barking & Dagenham (333.5, up from 268.7); Waltham Forest (327.1, up from 214.5); and Redbridge (310.3, up from 308.3).

Daily confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the UK
Daily confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the UK

Mr Hancock told the briefing: "I'm particularly concerned about the number of cases in London, Kent and Essex.

"Cases are rising and in many areas are already high.

"Looking into the detail, the testing results and survey shows us that by far the fastest rise is among secondary school-age children, 11 to 18-years-old, while the rate among adults in London is broadly flat.

"But we know from experience that a sharp rise in cases in younger people can lead to a rise among more vulnerable age groups later.

"We need to do everything we can to stop the spread among school-age children in London right now – we must not wait until the review, which will take place on December 16. We need to take targeted action immediately."

Chief medical officer Chris Whitty and Health Secretary Matt Hancock during Thursday's briefing
Chief medical officer Chris Whitty and Health Secretary Matt Hancock during Thursday's briefing

Mr Hancock said he had spoken to the leaders of London's councils and the London Mayor, and had "decided to put in place an immediate plan for testing all secondary school-aged children in the seven worst affected boroughs of London, in parts of Essex that border London and parts of Kent".

He added: "We want to keep schools open because that is both right for education and for public health.

"We are therefore surging mobile testing units and will be working with schools and local authorities to encourage these children and their families to get tested over the coming days."

He said everyone in these groups should get tested irrespective of whether they have symptoms, adding that one in three Covid-19 cases are asymptomatic.

England's chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty told the briefing a third wave was "not inevitable" and people could work together to follow the rules and bring infection rates down.