Europe

Covid jab teams blitz schools in drive to shield 500,000

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The NHS Covid Vaccination Programme urged families yesterday to grab the January slots for children aged 12 to 15. It comes as Prime Minister Boris Johnson is reportedly expected to announce plans “within weeks” to axe free lateral flow tests, providing them only in high-risk settings like hospitals.

GP Dr Nikki Kanani, the jab programme’s deputy lead, said: “I know how much disruption Covid has caused for so many families, affecting young people’s lives and education.

“The vaccine is safe and effective. My 13-yearold son had his first vaccination when I had my booster at our local pharmacy.”

More than 1.4 million 12- to 15-year-olds have had their first jab since September, but schools have been a thorny issue during the pandemic.

Critics say children were overlooked and virus curbs meant too much education was missed.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, compared “Covid generation” pupils to wartime evacuees yesterday.

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He said: “Masks are one way that we can get more young people in school and remind ourselves that young people are playing a really important role in protecting each other and their teachers.

“It’s almost like those evacuees of the Second World War thinking, ‘Look what we did, look what we achieved, what we learned through that.We were part of this Covid generation’.”

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said he believed the virus was shifting from “pandemic to endemic” and would back a five-day selfisolation instead of seven if experts agreed. However, he said he believed Covid would remain for five or six years.

Meanwhile, a Whitehall source said last night lateral flow testing had cost more than £6billion and added: “I don’t think we are in a world where we can continue to hand out free lateral flow tests to everybody for evermore.

“It’s likely we will move to a scenario where there is less testing but where we have a capacity to ramp it up if necessary, such as in winter.”

Government adviser Dr Mike Tildesley, of the Spi-M modelling group, said the Omicron variant may be the “first ray of light” in ensuring that, like a common cold, the virus will be endemic and easier to live with.

He spoke as 146,390 new Covid cases and 313 deaths were reported yesterday, compared with 162,572 cases and 154 deaths last week.

Rising Omicron rates in the North-east, North-west and the Midlands are a concern, but Dr Tildesley said the country was lagging up to three weeks behind London, where cases are “slowing down”.

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