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Coronavirus West Berkshire: Stricter measures in schools as Covid-19 cases rise in the district

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Pupils in West Berkshire are being urged to return to wearing masks in lessons as Covid numbers rise across the district.

Latest figures, published last night, show an infection rate of 653.1 per 100,000 population, compared to just 243.6 per 100,000 the previous week.

The district’s figures are above the South East average - 416.9 per 100,000 - and the national average of 424 per 100,000.

Pupils are being encouraged to wear masks in communal areas - including lessons - at some schools in West Berkshire
Pupils are being encouraged to wear masks in communal areas - including lessons - at some schools in West Berkshire

With this rise in the number of cases and the Newbury Showground site highlighted as one of the centres affected by false negative PCR test issues, schools have been asked to increase precautions until the half term break.

Service director for communities and wellbeing at West Berkshire Council Matt Pearce said in a meeting of the Local Outbreak Engagement Board earlier this week: "We recently suggested to schools that they may wish to put face coverings in place in communal areas.

"These aren’t in classes and this is perfectly within the Government's current framework.

Additional precautions are now being taken at schools across the area
Additional precautions are now being taken at schools across the area

"We are in constant conversation with our schools to support them.

"Normally it's a conversation with schools about what additional measures they think will be needed and we work with them."

He reported that Covid-19 patients within hospitals remains stable, with 27 confirmed in Royal Berkshire Hospital on October 12.

Additionally, there were nine new Covid-19 admissions to the RBH on October 10.

Covid cases are continuing to rise in the district
Covid cases are continuing to rise in the district

NHS Berkshire West chief information officer Katie Summers told the same meeting that some schools have asked parents to wear masks for drop-off and pick-up, as well as informing them that teachers have been encouraged to wear masks too.

“Temporary contingency measures” put in place at The Downs school, in Compton, include masks in all indoor areas, a return to year group bubbles, no assemblies, no extra-curricular activities and pupils asked to take daily lateral flow tests.

The precautions were outlined in a letter to parents from headteacher Chris Prosser, who described the situation as “extremely frustrating”, but said the measures were necessary to keep everyone safe.

St Bartholomew’s School, in Newbury, which has been asking pupils to wear masks in communal areas of the school since they returned in September in a bid to keep cases low, also confirmed additional measures had been put in place on Monday.

A spokesperson for the school said: “Following guidance from West Berkshire Education Service to all secondary schools we have temporarily reinstated the wearing of face coverings for students when in classrooms, as well as communal areas, to keep our community safe, which remains our priority.”

Similar letters have been sent to parents at Newbury's Park House School, The Willink School in Burghfield Common and John’O’Gaunt school in Hungerford.

The district’s main testing site at Newbury Showground hit the headlines last week as it was the first to be revealed as being affected by ‘false negative’ results.

NHS Test and Trace (NHS TT) confirmed last Friday that testing operations provided by the private company Immensa Health Clinic Ltd, in Wolverhampton, have been halted following an investigation into the reports.

It said around 400,000 samples have been processed through the lab, with an estimated 43,000 people potentially given an incorrect negative PCR test result between September 8 and October 12.

Residents who received negative PCR results from tests undertaken at the showground, between October 3 and October 12, were urged to retake the test.

A statement from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said it was “an isolated incident attributed to one laboratory”.

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