COVID-19 FAQs

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 11 October 2021.

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LATEST UPDATES

11 October 2021

Rising infection levels and absences

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Voice Community has been a strong supporter of the need for reasonable control measures identified through robust risk assessments, and has always supported an individual’s right to wear a face covering as necessary. 

Whilst we hope that a return to the lockdown measures of the previous year will not be required, it is vital that nurseries, schools and colleges regularly review their risk assessments with staff and are empowered to take the necessary action to ensure that they are safe places for all staff and children.

We know that the self-isolation of whole bubbles was hugely frustrating for school leaders, parents and especially for the children, but it is equally important that we do not place them at risk by removing all measures.

Voice Community continues its call for evidence to show that testing without the need for isolation is effective at limiting the spread of COVID-19 – and this will be critical in nurseries and primary schools, where pupil testing does not happen. And we want assurances that settings can implement control measures – such as face coverings – where the evidence suggests they are necessary and proportionate.

28 September 2021

Vaccinations for 12 to 15 year olds

Voice has issued a further statement of policy and advice for members on the vaccination on 12 to 15 year olds.

17 September 2021

Vaccinations for 12 to 15 year olds

Voice Community cautiously welcomes the announcement from the four Chief Medical Officers of the United Kingdom, that they are recommending one dose of a COVID vaccine. Ministers in the four UK nations subsequently accepted the CMOs' recommendations:

Further information is available in COVID-19 vaccination programme for young people: guidance for parents (UK Health Security Agency) and COVID-19 vaccination: resources for children and young people (Public Health England) plus NHS to deliver COVID-19 vaccines to 12- to 15-year-olds: your questions answered.

Watch CMO Professor Chris Whitty explain how the process will be the same as existing school vaccination programmes.

The Scottish Government also announced that safety mitigations, including the use of face coverings by pupils in secondary school classrooms, would be extended until at least the October holidays

11 August 2021

Covid 19 rules changes mean that from Saturday, August 7, the following has changed in Wales:

  • There will be no legal limits on the number of people who can meet, including in private homes, public places or at events.
  • Businesses which were required to be closed will be able to re-open, including nightclubs.
  • Premises which are open to the public and workplaces will have more flexibility about which "reasonable measures" they take to minimise the risk of coronavirus, however should be tailored to their risk assessment and their specific circumstances. This includes changes to things like social distancing. Face coverings are no longer legally required in hospitality settings where food and drink is served but will continue to be required in most indoor public places. 

First Minister Mark Drakeford said:

"Alert level zero does not mean the end of restrictions and a free-for-all. But it does mean we can all enjoy more freedoms with the confidence there are still important protections in place to make sure our public health is being safeguarded while we are out and about.

"Even if you have been fully vaccinated meeting outside is safer than inside. Let fresh air into indoor spaces, get tested even for mild symptoms, and self-isolate when you are required to do so. Continue to keep our distance when we are out and work from home whenever we can. Wear a face mask, especially in crowded places, on public transport, in shops, and in health and social care settings”.

4 August 2021

What does the ending of restrictions in Scotland on 9 August mean for schools and early years settings? 

Although social distancing will be dropped in most settings, the wearing of face coverings in some public spaces will continue.  This will include secondary schools and colleges, where staff will also need to maintain 1m physical distancing for the first six weeks of term and twice-weekly testing will be required. 

What about close contacts? 

Anyone in early years, primary or secondary schools who tests positive for COVID-19 will still be required to self-isolate but the rules around close contacts will change.  People aged 17 or over should get a PCR test.  A negative result means there will be no requirement to self-isolate. 

The same policy will apply to children aged between five and 17, while children aged under five will be "encouraged but not required" to take the test.  This means that the blanket isolation of whole classes will no longer be routine and instead a more targeted approach will identify close contacts at highest risk of infection. 

Revised guidance for schools

6 July 2021

Voice Community Statement 

Read Statement 

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 soon where ministers have said people would need to "learn to live" with Covid. 

Some rules in Northern Ireland have eased, with another review happening soon. 

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.