Groups of pupils should only be sent home if there has been a positive test,
rather than someone just developing symptoms, the prime minister has said as he defended the struggling testing system.
Boris Johnson said it was important for teachers and parents to examine the Public Health England guidance about coronavirus testing.
Speaking to MPs on the Liaison Committee, he reiterated government policy when he said: “The reasons for sending such a class home, or a bubble home, would be if somebody tests positive.”
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It comes as a teaching union leader warned that schools are struggling to cope with a lack of COVID-19 tests for pupils and staff as the situation is becoming “increasingly out of control”.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock: ‘Trying to fix’ COVID-19 testing
Dr Patrick Roach, general secretary of the NASUWT teaching union, has called on the government to prioritise the education sector for the allocation of tests in light of widespread challenges.
And the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) said it has received 264 responses from schools and colleges in recent days where leaders have said they have symptomatic staff and/or pupils who were struggling to access tests.
Mr Johnson admitted overall demand for tests in England has “massively accelerated” in the last two weeks and there is not enough capacity to meet it.
He promised daily testing capacity would reach 500,000 by the end of October.
But some hospitals have reported that people are turning up to A&E asking for tests, and opening hours at several testing sites in Lancashire have been reduced after people from outside local areas joined the queues.
The PM told MPs that the effort to increase testing included “automation, batch testing, securing supplies abroad” and he said a total of four new labs are being built and 300 people are being hired.
He insisted: “We have massively increased our testing capacity. I know that many people have had infuriating experiences, and I do sympathise with them.
“89% get their results within 24 hours, if you have an in-person test.
“And the distance that you have to travel to get a test has come down just in the last week. On average from about six or seven miles to about five miles.”
The PM also told MPs that the government will “very shortly” be setting out “the priority of the groups that we think should have tests” but he said those with symptoms will be at the front of the queue.
He added: “In schools, it’s very important that parents and teachers should look at the guidance about when you should get a test.”
Justice secretary quizzed on testing
Justice Secretary Robert Buckland has told Sky News’ Kay Burley that schoolchildren and their parents could be prioritised for coronavirus tests – after hospitals and care homes – as the government deals with “real challenges” in the system.
The government has come under growing pressure over a lack of availability of tests in some parts of England – blamed on problems with laboratory capacity – and admitted it could take a “matter of weeks” to solve the issues.
Tests have not been available for people with coronavirus symptoms in some of the worst-affected areas, including Bolton and the local authority of Oadby and Wigston in Leicestershire, as well as Preston and Oldham.
Bolton currently has the highest infection rate in England with more than 200 cases per 100,000 people.
Mr Johnson also said he did not want a second national lockdown as it would likely have “disastrous” financial consequences for the UK and “we are going to do everything in our power to prevent it”.
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The UK has recorded 20 more deaths of people with confirmed cases of COVID-19, according to government figures.
There were 3,991 new daily confirmed cases of coronavirus, compared with 3,105 on Tuesday, the figures show.
That means there have been 41,684 deaths in total, according to the official numbers.
Mr Johnson said an inquiry into the government’s response to the pandemic would “look at everything that has gone wrong and gone right” but would not be a “good use of official time at the moment”.
And he declined to indicate when the inquiry could begin.