THERE are 40 reported Covid outbreaks in Swindon schools as the infection rate in the town continues to soar to record levels.

The number of cases in Swindon schools now totals 583. The number varies from school to school with the average being around 14 or 15, according to the town’s director of public health Steve Maddern.

He said: “We feel half-term may offer some respite to schools. 

“But we do have concerns around half-term mixing, learning from experience of last year, which may impact on schools when they get back.

“There’s a lot of mixing, potentially with children that you don’t usually mix with or families, or friends. Please, be very mindful of this across half-term, particularly if planning events.

“The case rate in Swindon across the next couple of days is predicted to continue to rise."

The news comes after the infection rate for Swindon "significantly increased". It hit 949 cases per 100,000 people yesterday, up from 252.2 last Friday – a 277 per cent increase. 

The majority of cases were in the 10-14 year olds age group, followed by 15-19 year olds and 40-44 year olds. 

“You can assume that that is family transmission," said Mr Maddern. "We know that cases in the over 60s are much lower than the 10-14 year olds but it is rising. And for us that is a concern."

“To put that into context, the case rate in the over-60s is around 200 per 100,000. At the moment, in the 10-14 year olds the case rate 4,252.5 per 100,000. So, it very much gives you a picture that we see that transmission between that younger age group.”

Mr Maddern said testing confusion could also explain the rocketing case rate as 43,000 in the south west received negative PCR results following positive lateral flow tests after problems at a Wolverhampton lab.

He added: “As we see the case rate is increasing across the south west and England, there is that natural increase as we head into the autumn and winter months. But that’s probably the lesser of the three reasons.

“I think the main two reasons are very much around school cases and also that potential link to the lab incident. 

“I think because we have a number of Swindon people possibly impacted by that they would have been contacted across last weekend. And if they were in their infective period, would have been encouraged to test again. 

“What I think the concern locally is that there would have been a proportion of secondary transmission, that people thought that they were possibly Covid free, but then turned out not to be.”

When asked if schools should close and go back to online learning, he said: “No, I don’t think they do. What we have seen with the change to the school guidance is a significant reduction in school absence. 

“We have to balance the difference between the impact of not being in education versus the impact of Covid. 

“Although we’ve seen quite a number of cases in schools, we have managed to keep a lot of children in school. 

“There is guidance in place to support schools and that we knew that we were going to have a bumpy autumn and winter term.” 

The health chief stressed the importance of complying the current guidelines.

He said: “We know that the legal restrictions have been removed, but it’s a really strong plea to residents that the messaging around hands, face, space and ventilate, have a good evidence base behind them.

“When the legal restriction was removed, it gave people a bit of a breathing space. But

Covid hasn’t left us and we’re dealing with the incredibly high amount of community transmission at the moment, so that is going to increase people’s risk.

“And I’d be strongly encouraging people to reapply those guidelines if they have stopped doing so.”