Parents warn winter bugs in schools will spark test stampede

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Local parents fear pupils may miss more schooling this year if there is an outbreak of winter bugs resulting in a stampede for coronavirus tests.

The return to classrooms has seen a wave of coughs and colds resulting in the testing system coming under strain.

Officially, youngsters with Covid symptoms are required to have a test before being allowed to go back to school, but parents have told of their experiences.

Despite the official guidance being ‘not to travel’ with symptoms, a household of five was tested at Lochgilphead – a 74-mile round trip.

The family, who asked not to be named, could not wait for the Mobile Testing Unit (MTU) to arrive in Oban on Wednesday last week because of the requirement to be tested within five days or face self isolation.

The family said: ‘In winter this is going to be a big problem with all these school children coming home with coughs.’

Dad and two young children came down with ‘virus-like’ symptoms but found it a ‘rigmarole’ to get tests.

They had to fill out an extensive online form and it was only when they reached the end that they were notified home testing kits were not ‘available,’ he said.

When they tried to book test appointments online they had to again fill out the form and yet the system would only allow four tests to be booked and not five, he said.

They were then directed to tests in the Isle of Skye or Glasgow Airport.

After a round of phone calls where the details had to be provided again, they managed to arrange an appointment at a MTU in Lochgilphead.

Mum had to drive the family down and Dad pointed out: ‘If we had to travel all that way for a test and I had been positive for Covid, then all of us would then have to travel all the way back again to get tests for everybody else in the car.’

However, the Army-run MTU was ‘extremely efficient’, he said. The results arrived at 6am the following day and all of them proved negative.

In the Appin area, people have tried to order home test kits and found these were  ‘unavailable’.

It led to confusion over whether the problem was delivery to rural areas or whether stocks had been exhausted.

Clare Hunt, of Appin, is the co-ordinator for Appin Community Development Trust which set up Appin Aid, a group to help the community as Covid struck.

Mrs Hunt said: ‘The thing I have found most concerning is that there was no home test kits available and people could not get them sent here. For rural areas it’s important home test kits are available – it’s no good to say that they aren’t.

She added: ‘It meant anybody who can’t travel (for a test) couldn’t have one, which automatically meant they had to self isolate for two weeks.’

People are encouraged to order kits online but Mrs Hunt said older single people without internet access may not be able to do so, or may struggle to obtain the telephone number – again meaning they would have to self isolate.

Parents have suggested kits be put into GP surgeries or local schools.

John Swinney MSP, deputy first minister and cabinet secretary for education, said a distinction had to be made between the ‘common cold and the coronavirus’.

Mr Swinney said: ‘Following the return of schools after a prolonged break it is common for colds and similar viral infections to circulate. In many cases, children will be well enough to attend school and continue their learning with little or no interruption to their education. In other cases, for instance where they have quite a heavy cold with a runny nose, they may need to take a day or two off to recover.

‘This is not the case for children and young people with potential Covid-19 symptoms – they are required to self isolate and seek a test as soon as possible.’

The main symptoms parents must watch out for are a new and continuous cough, a fever and high temperature or a loss or a change in sense of smell or taste.

Only those with these symptoms should apply for tests, he said.

‘It is essential that people who have Covid-19 symptoms or who share a household with someone who has symptoms does not attend school, nursery or childcare settings and must self isolate with all members of their household,’ said Mr Swinney.

Jason Leitch, national clinical director for the Scottish Government, is writing an open letter to all parents reminding them of when to get tests.

Argyll and Bute Council has provided information online at www.argyll-bute.gov.uk/coronavirus/information-parents-and-carers