To help members stay apprised, here are some answers to the questions we're getting asked most often. We'll keep this updated as the situation progresses. Last updated 20 July 2021.

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20 July 2021

Voice Community Statement 

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Commenting on the statement by Education Secretary Gavin Williamson today (6 July 2021) about the lifting of COVID restrictions in education from 19 July, Deborah Lawson, Community Union Assistant General Secretary (Voice education and early years section), said: 

“While we welcome the announcements and the end to speculation that all COVID restrictions are to be lifted, and the Secretary of State’s announcement for schools about the removal of bubbles and changes to self-isolation, we are disappointed that all this is being the announced in the last weeks of the summer term.     

“We applaud the dedication of the education workforce throughout the last 16 months, since we know this self-isolation of whole bubbles has been frustrating for pupils, parents and staff, and we have called for it to be reviewed.     

“Workplaces must be safe, and employers should remember that they are duty bound to provide a safe working environment.  

“Voice Community is calling for evidence to show that these proposals for testing without the need for isolation will be effective at limiting the spread of COVID-19 and protect vulnerable pupils and staff.   

“This is especially important in nurseries and primary schools, where pupil testing does not happen. And we want assurances that settings can implement control measures where the evidence suggests they are necessary and proportionate.    

“We have yet to hear the evaluation of the daily testing pilot scheme that the Government were promoting as an alternative to self-isolation, and have hopes that this may provide some answers.     

“We will closely examine the guidance and seek clarification where required to answer members’ questions, and trust that settings will ensure that they are safe for children and staff.” 

Step 4 unlocking 

COVID-19 restrictions in England ended 19 July. This means: 

  • Face masks will no longer be legally required 
  • The 1m-plus social distancing rule will end 
  • All legal restrictions on numbers meeting indoors and outdoors will be removed 
  • All businesses, including nightclubs, can reopen 
  • Table service rules at bars and restaurants and venue check-in requirements will be scrapped 
  • The limit on the number of named visitors to care homes will be lifted 
  • Capacity limits for concerts, theatres and sports events will also be removed 
  • Guidance instructing people to work from home where possible will be lifted 
  • Council powers to enforce rules will expire 

The next lockdown review in Wales will be on 15 July where ministers have said people would need to "learn to live" with Covid. 

Some rules in Northern Ireland have eased, with another review due on 8 July. 

All parts of Scotland are expected to be in level zero from 19 July and more restrictions are likely to be removed on 9 August, including lifting the legal requirement to physically distance indoors. 

But, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon also said: "There will still be some ongoing need for face coverings, for example on public transport and in retail." 

What this means for Nurseries, Schools, Colleges and Universities in England 

Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson announced the arrangements for schools and education settings on 6 July.   

Most of the changes are due to come into effect in the new Autumn term so there is no pressure on settings to bring these changes in before the end of term.  For thos settings that operate all-year-round, the key dates are July 19 for the removal of national restrictions on face coverings, and August 16 where the NHS test and Trace team will assume responsibility for contact tracing.  This is when bubbles and self-isolation could end. 

The DfE have produced guidance, some frequently asked questions and answers, and a template letter for settings to send to parents, pupils and students on changes to contact tracing of close contacts. These can all be found on the document sharing platforms for primary and early yearssecondary schools, further education and higher education and children's social care.  

Mr Williamson said that from August 16 double-vaccinated staff and children under 18 will only need to self-isolate if they have themselves tested positive, if they are required to because NHS test and trace have advised, or because they are a close family member. Our understanding is that family members will be required to have a PCR test before they can return to school and work as normal. 

Accuracy of LFD Tests 

Regular testing is a vital tool in stopping transmission but we know some of you have asked about the accuracy of LFD testing, so we checked with studies the Department of Health and Social Care published (7 July) 

Around one in three people infected with COVID-19 never develop symptoms, so asymptomatic testing is the only way to spot those cases most likely to be infectious. Knowing that LFD tests are effective in identifying the Delta variant means everyone who is currently engaged in regular twice-weekly testing can be confident the test will detect what is now the most common strain in circulation. 

In summary 

  • We are relieved that data shows the most-widely used LFD tests are effective at detecting the Delta variant of COVID-19. 
  • Studies find accuracy of tests remains high whether it is performed by an experienced or inexperienced user. 

The research papers analysed the use of LFDs in a variety of scenarios: against variants of concern; on patients with high or low viral loads; as part of mass testing campaigns; in the hands of inexperienced users and; with different types of swabs. 

Full guidance for schools, special schools, early years settings and further and higher education can be found here

Whilst we understand that we must learn to live with this virus, we continue to ask the DfE and DHSC for evidence to show that these measures will keep children and staff safe. 

Further guidance can be found for Scotland here, Wales here and England here.