Covid-19 testing at home (Photo: JulPo via Getty Images)
Downing Street is still sticking to its “Living with Covid” strategy for now, even though another wave is now making its way through the UK.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) confirmed this week that more than 200,000 UK deaths linked to Covid since the pandemic started.
Even though tests are no longer free and there are currently no restrictions in place, the government is still advising against testing children.
So here’s what gov.uk actually says
On a page including guidance for people with Covid symptoms, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) acknowledges that respiratory infections can spread very easily, while recommending what actions you can take to “protect other people” if you’re unwell.
However, it then says: “It is not recommended that children and young people are tested for Covid-19 unless directed to by a health professional.”
For people who haven’t taken a test, the official advice is to stay at home and avoid contact with others until you no longer have a high temperature “or until you no longer feel unwell”, if you do not feel “well enough” to carry out your normal activities.
The page also claims: “The risk of becoming seriously unwell from Covid-19 and other respiratory infections is very low for most children and young people.”
It suggests that for “most children and young people” displaying Covid-like symptoms, “these illnesses will not be serious and they will soon recover following rest and plenty of fluids”.
“Very few children and young people with respiratory infections become seriously unwell. This is also true for children and young people with long-term conditions.”
Yet, it does point out that if you’re worried as a parent or guardian, especially if they’re under two, you should seek medical help.
Do experts agree?
Well, yes – but there’s a caveat
Co-founder of the ZOE Covid Study, Professor Tim Spector from King’s College London, told HuffPost UK that children should only be tested if it’s likely to be Covid – but that likelihood is quite high right now.
He said: “I agree with the advice that we shouldn’t be testing children or young people unless it’s believed to be Covid.
“However, it’s important to point out, that currently in the UK, the ZOE Health Study data shows that there are over 350,000 new daily COVID cases - a new record.
“The top symptoms include sore throat, blocked nose and dry cough, which will look and feel a lot like a cold.
“What’s more, the ZOE data shows that any cold-like symptoms are nearly twice as likely to be COVID as a cold right now.
“So my advice isn’t no testing at all.
“It’s keep an eye out of cold-like symptoms and if a child or young person has new cold-like symptoms, so assume it’s probably Covid.”
Others point out it’s not just about the children
Christina Pagel, professor of operational research at UCL, tweeted her response to the official government advice on Wednesday.
She pointed out that it’s not just about how much an infection might impact children, but about all the people they come into contact with.
Pagel described the policy by tweeting: “What fresh hell is this?”
what fresh hell is this? Gov now advising kids not to test for Covid unless told to by a clinician.
I guess their household members, friends, relatives, teachers don't enter into the equation. https://t.co/fCTvUineIhpic.twitter.com/4JOcbD9b34
— Prof. Christina Pagel 🇺🇦 (@chrischirp) July 13, 2022
Pagel also shared a flow chart explaining why the UK still seems to be in the grips of the pandemic, more than two years and a whole vaccination programme later.
She pointed out that mass infections usually begin with those who are under-vaccinated, but do a lot of social mixing – children and young adults.
This is where the virus can mutate easily, and then pass into the rest of the population.
What if your child has already taken a test?
The government recommends children who do test, and get a positive result, isolate for less time than adults, because they are infectious for a shorter period of time.
The advice suggests: “If a child or young person has a positive Covid-19 test result they should try to stay at home and avoid contact with other people for three days after the day they took the test, if they can.
“After three days, if they feel well and do not have a high temperature, the risk of passing the infection onto others is much lower.
“This is because children and young people tend to be infectious to other people for less time than adults.”
Adults are advised to avoid contact with others for five days.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.