Created on: 08 Apr 2022
Dear EIS members
Thank you for your letters to the Cabinet Secretary expressing support for the retention of regular asymptomatic testing for school staff. I have been asked to respond on her behalf.
By way of context, the Test and Protect Transition Plan was published on 15th March and sets out the timelines for moving towards a more targeted approach to COVID‑19 testing across all parts of society. The plan makes clear that the primary purpose of testing is changing from population-wide testing to reduce transmission, to targeted testing to support clinical care. This reflects the positive impact of vaccination and treatment options on severe disease, and the wider harms of a strategy overly focussed on suppression at this point in time.
This approach is expected to best protect those in the highest risk settings (such as hospitals and care homes), where testing will be retained primarily to protect the large numbers of vulnerable people in those settings from a greater risk of severe health outcomes. As part of this society-wide transition, regular asymptomatic testing in all other workplaces and settings will end from 18 April. At the same time, general advice to routinely test if asymptomatic will cease and access to lateral flow tests for that purpose via the universal testing offer will therefore end.
Thereafter, after the end of April, the general public will no longer be advised to seek a test if symptomatic – at this stage we will move instead to general public health guidance to stay at home if unwell. Groups eligible for testing to support clinical care will access testing through the home order channel. Further details on other aspects of the transition can be found in the Testing Transition Plan.
It is in this wider context that the decision to end the asymptomatic testing programme in schools at the end of this term has been taken. I do fully appreciate that those school staff who have to date been testing regularly may feel anxious about these changes in our overarching approach to dealing with COVID-19. However, please be assured that all of our decisions on this issue have been informed by expert advice provided by the National Incident Management Team, Public Health Scotland, senior clinicians and the Advisory Sub-group on Education and Children’s Issues.
That advice makes clear that the population currently has much stronger protection against COVID-19 than at any other point in the pandemic, due to the vaccination programme (levels of vaccination are very high amongst school staff) and the development of natural immunity to the infection. In contrast to the position when the testing programme was first introduced, severe health outcomes for all age groups are far less likely to arise due to this protection, availability of and access to antiviral treatments, and increased scientific and public understanding about how to manage risk.
I hope you have had the opportunity to view the recording of the question and answer session last month between public health experts and EIS members, to discuss some of the evidence underpinning this decision and to listen to members’ concerns.
If you have not already done so, I would encourage you to watch the session and I hope you feel it offers clarity and reassurance.
Thank you for the work you are doing to support our children and young people in Scotland’s schools during what I know is a very challenging time.
Covid-19 Education Recovery Group Secretariat