Monday, 29th November, 2021
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has classified the recently discovered Omicron Coronavirus Variant as ‘a variant of concern’. The high number of mutations means that it is proving difficult to predict the exact impact of this particular strain of the virus. Omicron was first detected in South Africa just a week or so ago. Whilst it has been suggested that, theoretically, Omicron might render vaccines up to 40% less effective and be more transmissible than previous variants (such as the Delta variant), early indications suggest that the symptoms appear to be somewhat milder. It is the case that the level of COVID in the immediate area around Rossall remains very low and this has enabled us to operate relatively normally since the half term break.
Vaccines will most likely continue to provide significant protection against serious illness and pharmaceutical companies such as Moderna and BioNTech are already modifying existing vaccines to take account of the various new mutations. This work should be completed by early January.
Over 88% of all UK citizens over the age of 12 have received at least one shot of a Covid vaccine. 80% have received two doses and 30% have received a third ‘Winter booster’ dose. Indeed, almost half a million doses of vaccine were administered yesterday and an additional six million doses are being made available over the next three weeks.
It will be two to three weeks until we are able to understand the impact of Omicron – the data is not available yet. So far, only a handful of cases have been detected in the UK though cases have also been detected in Hong Kong, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Australia, Belgium, Denmark and Israel.
In response to Omicron, the UK government has announced the following measures.
- From tomorrow morning (Tuesday 30th November), all international arrivals must take a Day 2 PCR test and self-isolate until they receive a negative result.
- All contacts of suspected Omicron cases must self-isolate, regardless of their vaccination status. They will be contacted by NHS Test and Trace.
- Face coverings will be made compulsory in shops and on public transport from next week.
- Travel restrictions have already been implemented to slow the spread of the variant. From 04:00hrs on Sunday 28th November, South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Namibia have been added to the UK’s red travel list. Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Angola are soon to follow.
All these measures will be reviewed after three weeks and we will update parents of any changes as and when they are announced by the government.
As you are aware, those arriving from red list countries are able to quarantine at School in ‘Red House’ and we have the staff and resources available to manage any such need effectively.
International arrivals into the UK from all other countries will continue to be able to self-isolate within their own boarding houses.
It remains the case that facemasks, social distancing, good personal hygiene and vaccines, collectively, serve to provide strong protection against Covid.
We should not rush to reimpose restrictions until there is a strong evidential basis to do so. We have made such excellent progress over recent months and our children have gained hugely from full immersion in co-curricular activities and the opportunity to socialise with one another relatively freely. An abundance of caution needs to be balanced with the need to maintain school life.
As we approach the festive season, it makes perfect sense to take a measured and cautious approach to the risk of Covid so as to ensure that all Rossall families are able to enjoy the forthcoming holiday together. In particular, we want to ensure our international families return home safely. Also, we want to ensure that all of our UK families can see loved ones (such as elderly or medically vulnerable relatives) over Christmas. Therefore, we need to manage the next two weeks very carefully so as to ensure a successful end to the term.
Yesterday, the Department of Education announced the following measures:
- From Monday 29th November, we are strongly advising that face coverings should be worn in communal areas in all settings by staff, visitors and pupils in year 7 and above, unless they are exempt.
- Pupils or students (in year 7 or above) should continue to wear face coverings on public and dedicated school transport, unless they are exempt.
From Tuesday 30th November, pupils at Rossall (year 7 and above) will be required to wear face coverings in classrooms. This requirement will be reviewed every couple of days but will most likely remain in place until the end of term. It goes above and beyond what the government advises but we believe that there is little sense in deploying face coverings in communal areas but not in classrooms. Furthermore, the very low level of viral transmission that occurred when we did wear face coverings would tend to suggest that they are effective.
It is our intention that concerts, parents’ meetings, carol services etc. should go ahead but with the wearing of face masks. We are reluctant to cancel anything unless the data and regional context makes it sensible to do so.
Staff and students should continue to complete twice weekly lateral flow tests. Obviously, it makes sense to do this on Sunday evening and mid-week.
There are no changes to the current guidance on contact tracing and isolation. Close contacts of confirmed cases should take PCR tests but do not need to self-isolate unless they are over 18 and unvaccinated. The exception is for close contacts of suspected or confirmed Omicron cases, who will be asked to isolate for ten days.
Finally, the Department of Education encourages students aged 12 or over to take up the offer of the vaccine, including boosters. The Department of Education website asserts that:
buVaccines are our best defence against COVID-19. They help protect young people and adults, and benefit others. Vaccination makes people less likely to catch the virus and less likely to pass it on.
In terms of vaccination, our stance remains neutral and on no account do we differentiate between staff and pupils in terms of their vaccination status.
We feel extremely well prepared for the next little while and we are very confident in the efficacy of the measures that we are able to deploy should the need be proven. It is our responsibility to use the tools and resources at our disposal effectively in order to ensure minimal disruption to School life. We are in a much better position than at earlier stages during the pandemic and the fact that the UK is able to genetically sequence new variants so quickly and then modify existing vaccines in just a matter of weeks is, of course, our strongest reason to feel very optimistic.
Should you have any questions regarding this update and the measures outlined, then please do not hesitate to contact either Houseparents or Dina Porovic, Senior Deputy Head ([email protected]).