Mass testing will be rolled out for secondary school children in coronavirus hotspots across London, Essex and Kent, the health secretary has announced.
Matt Hancock said he was “concerned” that the number of COVID-19 cases in those three areas was “rising and in many areas already high” and that “by far the fastest rise” is among 11 to 18-years-olds.
While infection rates in adults living in those places is “broadly flat”, he said “we know from experience” that a sharp rise in cases among young people “can lead to” the virus spreading into the elderly and vulnerable population.
“We must not wait until the review” next Wednesday when the tier restrictions system is reviewed, Mr Hancock said.
“We need to take targeted action immediately.”
He explained mass testing will therefore be available to all secondary school-age children in the seven worst-affected boroughs in the capital, as well as parts of Essex that border London and parts of Kent.
“We want to keep schools open, because that’s both right for education and public health,” the health secretary added.
“I want to urge all those involved to step forward for the testing. It’s important that 11 to 18-year-olds get tested in these boroughs.”
Mr Hancock also announced that the Pfizer/ BioNTech vaccine is being administered in 73 hospitals.
The jab will be available in some GPs’ surgeries from next week and in care homes before Christmas, he promised.
It comes after another 20,964 coronavirus cases were recorded on Thursday – a rise of 4,386 compared to yesterday’s figure.
It is the highest daily rise since mid-November – and brings the total number of infections during the pandemic to 1,787,783.
Another 516 coronavirus-related deaths were also reported in the latest 24-hour period – a slight fall of 17 compared to the previous day.