Schools have begun adopting pandemic-style restrictions including year group bubbles and face masks in an attempt to reduce the spread of Strep A.
Parents at Costessey Primary School in Norwich were told there would be no mixing between year groups during breaks and lunchtimes from Friday after 17 cases of scarlet fever – a disease caused by Strep A – were confirmed within the school.
The school’s nativity play and other Christmas celebrations such as a music concert have been cancelled.
“The rate of the rise [in illnesses] is a worry to us all and as always we are committed to ensuring the very best safety measures for our pupils,” the school said in an email to parents on Thursday evening.
The school said that the measures such as year group bubbles and cancellation of Christmas events and after school clubs would be put in place “with immediate effect”.
At Holmewood House Prep School, a private school in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, face masks have been made available for staff and children who would like to wear one and hand sanitiser has been made available in classrooms and other areas such as the dining hall.
The school has said it will keep doors and windows open during carol services and assemblies to increase ventilation, despite the cold weather.
Parents have been asked to ensure children have jumpers and blazers or coats to keep them warm. They were told on Wednesday that the measures were being adopted to “reduce the risk of transmission in the final days of term and on our return to school in January” following “a recent increase in illness across the school”.
At least 16 children have died of Strep A, according to official figures. Strep A, a common and highly infectious bacterial infection, causes Strep throat or tonsillitis, as well as scarlet fever, impetigo and, in rare and severe cases, invasive Group A Strep (iGAS), which can trigger lethal sepsis, shock or meningitis.
Official data from the Department for Education shows that last week there were 1.58 million primary and 1.23 million secondary pupils off school with illness.
This equates to 5.6 and 5.9 per cent of England’s primary and secondary school students off sick, respectively, and is up more than double from the 2.3 and 2.9 per cent figures seen at the start of the academic year in September.
The Government has advised schools to adopt good hand and respiratory hygiene but it has not issued any guidance for schools to adopt year group bubbles, cancel events or wear face masks.
A Whitehall health source told The Telegraph that adopting bubbles was a “really weird” decision “because we’ve never used bubbles before Covid”. The source added: “The evidence that bubbles worked was very limited.
“It’s again going back to interventions with no evidence….Kids grow up in a routine that gives them stability, and disrupting routine has a lot of negative consequences that we normally don’t appreciate or understand.
“There are certain things that we can do that are more important. The first thing is if your child has a respiratory illness or any symptoms then keep them at home until they’re better because you don’t want to pass those infections around. If your child looks unwell then get them seen by the medical team.”
Another leading paediatrician said it was “highly, highly unlikely” that bubbles will stop transmission of Strep A in schools.
“These measures won’t work. That’s not the answer to this. It just creates more panic,” they told The Telegraph.
A&E doctors are reporting being inundated with parents worried their child has Strep A, with one doctor telling The Telegraph emergency departments are 50 per cent busier now than normal.
More than 40,000 people have signed a petition by Amy Bennett, a parent of a 6-year-old and a 4-year-old, calling for schools to close early for Christmas.
The petition states: “Schools closed for Covid even though the number of deaths in children were considerably low but because the number of deaths were considerably high overall the Government closed the schools. Now there is an illness attacking our children, the schools remain open.”
Molly Kingsley, of the parents’ group UsForThem, which campaigned against school closures during the pandemic, said: “Whilst it is right that we take children’s health seriously, we need to ensure that our first response is not to cancel events – such as nativity plays – for some children they will never have been involved in these important and joyful rites of passage. We must balance the health risks with the now unarguable damage that eroding school activities and cancellations does to children.”
It is understood that the UK Health Security Agency is advising schools individually that have been impacted by Strep A. The agency declined to comment on the pandemic-style measures adopted by some schools.TIOB News