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Scientists, unions and teachers concerned after data cut from Public Health Engl& report ahead of shift on face masks


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A social distancing sign outside a school in Slough, Berkshire. The mandate on face masks in schools has been lifted. Photograph: Maureen McLean/Rex/Shutterstock
A social distancing sign outside a school in Slough, Berkshire. The mandate on face masks in schools has been lifted. Photograph: Maureen McLean/Rex/Shutterstock

Downing Street leaned on Public Health Englvà not to lớn publish crucial data on the spread of the new Covid variant in schools, documents seen by the Observer have suggested. Scientists, union officials and teachers said that the lachồng of transparency was “deeply worrying”.

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The focus of their anger concerns the pre-print of a PHE report that included a page of data on the spread of the India Covid-19 variant in schools. But when the report was published on Thursday 13 May, the page had been removed. It was the only one that had been removed from the pre-print. Days later, the government went ahead with its decision to remove the mandate on face coverings in English schools.

Evidence seen by the Obhệ thống suggests No 10 was directly involved in the decision not to publish it. The prime minister’s office acknowledged it was in correspondence with PHE officials about presentation of the data but vigorously denied this constituted “interference” or “pressure”.

Data on the spread of the new variant in schools has still not been published, despite calls from union officials & scientists who say teachers & families are being put at risk. In hotspots such as Bolton, cases involving the variant are rising fastest aao ước school-age children.

Information seen by the Obhệ thống reveals that 164 cases of the new variant were linked to lớn schools up khổng lồ 12 May, or 7.8% of a total of 2,111 cases. Since then, the number of total cases of the new variant has increased khổng lồ 3,424 cases, a rise of 62%. The number of cases now linked to lớn schools is unknown.

PHE will only say the data will be published “in due course”. It declined khổng lồ phản hồi on whether Downing Street has played a role in the decision.

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Minutes from the Sage advisory group meeting last week warn the new variants are “capable of generating a wave of infections bigger than previous waves”, và that the danger of “overreacting seems small compared lớn the potential benefit of delaying a third wave until more people are vaccinated”.

Christina Pagel, professor of operational retìm kiếm at University College London, said the situation was very troubling. “It feels like bad news that we’re not being told.

“There is a narrative that schools are safe but the data clearly shows this variant can and does spread in schools. Two weeks ago, the Singaporean health minister closed schools because of the risk of greater spread in children of this variant.

“Parents, teachers and children just need this information in order lớn take steps lớn keep themselves và their communities safe. The new variant is the biggest threat to the roadmaps according to lớn Sage, but the data is just not coming out in a transparent and timely manner. I just feel like PHE is letting us down at a crucial time.”

Deepti Gurdasani, at Queen Mary University, London, said: “We know from truyền thông media reports there are many outbreaks of the so-called ‘India variant’ in schools but there’s no systematic data. In Bolton, it’s risen faschạy thử in school-age children and it looks lượt thích schools are contributing khổng lồ the rapid spread of the virut … và yet at this crucial moment, the government has gone ahead và lifted mitigations. It’s incredibly worrying.

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“This is a public health emergency and PHE is supposed lớn be an independent public health toàn thân. It is crucial that they have the public’s trust.”


Jon Richards, head of education for Unison, said the union has repeatedly asked for this data for weeks. “We were told it would be in the report last Thursday but it wasn’t. We were then told it would be published this week but that report has simply not appeared. In the meantime, the government has gone và lifted the rule on face coverings.”

A Downing Street spokesperson said: “Twice a week Public Health England publish a breakdown of the number of cases of each variant in the UK. Given public interest in variants of concern, we are looking at ways lớn publish cases transmitted in different settings in a robust and clear way. PHE will publish this data in due course.”

This article was amended on 23 May 2021. In an earlier version, 164 cases out of 2,111 was incorrectly said lớn be 13%, rather than 7.8%; và an increase from 2,111 cases lớn 3,424 was wrongly said lớn equate lớn a 160% rise, rather than a 62% rise.


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