Secondary school students in London will have increased access to coronavirus tests following rises in infection rates across the South East, Matt Hancock has announced.
The Health Secretary said that “by far the fastest rise” in cases in the South had been among children aged 11-18, and that targeted action was needed immediately.
Speaking at a Downing Street press conference, he said: “I’m particularly concerned about the number of cases in London, Kent and Essex.
“Cases are rising and in many areas are already high.
“Looking into the detail, the testing results and surveys shows us that by far the fastest rise is among secondary school age children 11-18 years old, while the rate among adults in London is broadly flat.
“But we know from experience that a sharp rise in cases in younger people can lead to a rise among more vulnerable age groups later.
“We need to do everything we can to stop the spread among school age children in London right now – we must not wait until the review, which will take place on December 16.
“We need to take targeted action immediately.”
Mr Hancock said the Government would be working with local authorities to “surge” testing units to allow students and their families to access tests
“We want to keep schools open because that is both right for education and for public health,” he said.
“We are therefore surging mobile testing units and will be working with schools and local authorities to encourage these children and their families to get tested over the coming days.
“I want to urge all those involved to step forward for the testing.
“It is important that 11-18 years olds get tested in these boroughs, irrespective of whether they have symptoms.”
It comes as three more London boroughs entered the top 20 areas with the highest rates of infection in England – Barking & Dagenham, Waltham Forest, and Redbridge.
Rates are up in 31 of the 32 London boroughs, the exception being Brent, according to data published by Public Health England.
But Mr Hancock said it was “not inevitable” that London would be placed under tighter Tier 3 restrictions.
A formal review of the tiering system is due to take place on Wednesday December 16.
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said that placing the capital under the harshest coronavirus restrictions would be “catastrophic.”
Under England’s Tier 3 restrictions pubs and restaurants would only be able to offer takeaway services and households would be banned from mixing except in certain outdoor spaces such as parks.
People would also be urged to avoid travelling outside the area and fans would again be banned from sporting events.
England’s chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, added that the increase in infection rates across the South East was “concerning,” and that questions would have to be asked about whether more measures were needed.
“Of course we’re concerned and anyone living in those areas is going to be concerned,” he said.
“We need to look very seriously at those areas and ask the question ‘are there enough measures going in or do we have to have more?’”