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Pupils should no longer have to self-isolate if someone in school bubble gets COVID – expert

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Pupils should not have to self-isolate if someone in their school bubble tests positive, England’s new children’s commissioner has said.

Dame Rachel de Souza is calling for an end to current coronavirus bubble arrangements in schools, which mean that whole classes have to self-isolate if someone in them catches COVID.

She said the “experience of lockdown has been a real trauma” for children and young people and the current rules are “a really big issue”.

“With bubbles, I think everybody would like it if we could get back to normal, as soon as possible. Obviously we have to be safe, and we have to take advice, but it’s very very restrictive,” she told The Daily Telegraph.

Dame Rachel said children have “given up 19 weeks of their education” due to lockdowns, adding: “They’ve taken a big burden for us.”

The current rules have led to a sharp increase in student absences, with the latest government figures showing 239,000 had missed classes and numbers trebling in the past week.

Reports in The Guardian on Tuesday claim ministers are set to scrap the current arrangements, with an announcement due in the next few days.

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According to the paper, the government is planning on replacing self-isolation requirements with testing from September.

In the Commons on Monday, newly-appointed health secretary Sajid Javid said he had asked for “fresh advice” on the COVID-19 situation in schools.

Former health minister Steve Brine told Mr Javid “our young people have suffered enough”.

“Ten days of isolation are unavoidable under the current rules, even with a negative PCR test,” he said.

Mr Javid replied: “This is a very important issue and it is something I’ve focused on, on day one of the job.

“That is why I’ve asked for fresh advice on this. As he knows, the decision was made with the data that was available at the time.

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“Clearly data is changing all the time and we must make sure that we keep that under review for exactly the right reasons that he has set out and, as I say, I have asked for advice on this and I will hopefully be able to say more on this as soon as possible.”

Ministers have been under growing pressure to change the rules in schools, with cases continuing to rise and the burden of absences increasing.

The UK recorded 22,868 new cases on Monday – the highest number since the end of January – with a several countries, including Portugal, Spain, Malta and Hong Kong, imposing new rules on British travellers over concerns about the Delta (Indian) variant.

On Monday, Mr Javid, who replaced Matt Hancock as health secretary over the weekend following the publication of images of him kissing his aide, said the UK will “have to learn to live with” coronavirus.

He said he is “very confident” all remaining restrictions will be lifted in England on 19 July as planned, as there is no “zero risk” option.