The army is being sent in to help carry out mass testing of children in secondary schools in Liverpool this week, with public health experts considering rolling it out further to primary schools across the city.© Provided by The Guardian Photograph: Peter Powell/EPA
Testing is due to begin in around a dozen secondary and special schools. If parents provide consent, pupils over the age of 11 will be tested twice over a 10-day period as part of the UK’s first mass Covid testing trial.
Schools selected for testing have begun sending out letters to parents. One from Broadgreen International School caused alarm when it said that due to “challenging and unprecedented circumstances”, it would not be possible to gain parental permission in the normal way. Instead, parents would be required to opt out by letter.© Photograph: Peter Powell/EPA Soldiers conduct Covid-19 tests as part of operation moonshot in Wavertree Tennis centre, Liverpool.
Each child would be identified with “a unique barcode”, it said, and if a positive test was received the school would “secure” the individual concerned, before identifying others who had been in close contact, who would then need to self-isolate.
Liverpool city council said the letter was inaccurate and no child would be tested without parental consent. “We didn’t have sight of this letter before it was sent to parents,” a spokesman said. “Due to inaccuracies within it, it has now been withdrawn by the school.
“We are working closely with schools and our partners involved in the mass testing programme to make sure the process in schools is as smooth as possible.”
The spokesman said the military would provide logistical support in setting up and running the tests and the council was working with public health services and school nursing services to facilitate the programme in schools.
The plan is first to roll out testing to all secondary schools in Liverpool, but experts are also looking at whether it could be extended to primary schools. “There are 130 primary schools in Liverpool, so it would be quite a logistical challenge,” the spokesman said.
Allyson Pollock, professor of public health at the University of Newcastle, expressed unease at the mass testing of children: “Screening is a very complex intervention. It has to be part of a very well thought-out programme. This has not been thought through.
“Children have already suffered extreme disruption. If you’ve got the army coming in, you’ve got psychological distress, the physical trauma of having a test and you’ve got the potential for stigma if you are positive.”
Liverpool’s director of public health, Matthew Ashton, said: “The more of us who get tested, the more we can stop the spread of Covid-19 in our city. We’re saying to people: let’s do this for our families, our city, our Liverpool – and that includes our young people.
“All children aged between 11 and 18 years old, where the appropriate recorded consent is provided, are eligible for the test. We are inviting the young people in our city to take part in this process and be part of this groundbreaking initiative.”