Downing Street has put pressure on Public Health England to not publish data on the spread of the new Covid variant in schools, the Observer has reported.
Scientists, unions and teachers have all expressed concern over a lack of transparency.
A PHE report included a page of data on the spread of the India Covid-19 variant in schools, but upon publication on 13 May, the page had been removed.
A few days later, the government went ahead with its decision to remove the requirement to wear face coverings in English schools.
The Observer has seen evidence which suggests the government was directly involved in the decision to not publish the data.
The prime minister’s office said it was in correspondence with PHE officials about presentation of the data but strongly denied this meant “interference” or “pressure”.
The missing data about the virus variant spread has still not been published despite union officials and scientists being very concerned that teachers and families are being put at risk. In hotspots such as Bolton, cases involving the variant are rising fastest among school-age children.
There were 164 cases of the new variant linked to schools up to 12 May, or 7.8 per cent of a total of 2,111 cases. Since then, the amount of cases of the new variant has increased to 3,424 cases, a rise of 62 per cent. The number of cases now linked to schools is not known.
What PHE and Downing Street say
PHE has only said the data will be published “in due course”. But it declined to comment on whether Downing Street has played a role in the decision.
Sage advisory group meeting minutes from last week warn the new variants are “capable of generating a wave of infections bigger than previous waves”. They also highlight that the danger of “overreacting seems small compared to the potential benefit of delaying a third wave until more people are vaccinated”.
A Downing Street spokesperson said: “Twice a week Public Health England publish a breakdown of the number of cases of each variant in the UK. Given public interest in variants of concern, we are looking at ways to publish cases transmitted in different settings in a robust and clear way. PHE will publish this data in due course.”
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