We are aware of messages being circulated on social media that suggest Public Health Officials have the power to screen and assess children for coronavirus without a parent or carer present. This is not true.
The Coronavirus Act gives Public Health Officials powers to impose proportionate requirements on anyone who is suspected to have coronavirus but are not complying with public health advice voluntarily. But they are to be used as a last resort only – and according to the latest figures published on 31 July these powers, under schedule 21 of the act, have not been used all.
Public Health Officials have the power to require a child to be screened and assessed for coronavirus but they can only be exercised in the presence of an individual with responsibility for the child, usually the parent or a person who has custody or charge of the child.
In this eventuality, Public Health Officers would make the appropriate assessment and restrictions will be placed accordingly. Under these powers, an individual could be asked to self-isolate at home for up to 14 days to stop the spread of coronavirus if they are not voluntarily complying with the public health advice. If the individual is unable to self-isolate at home, alternatives can be discussed with the Public Health Officer.
If a parent or carer felt that restrictions imposed on a child were unfair, they would be able to proceed with the right to appeal to the magistrate's court.
A Public Health England spokesperson said:
We been alerted to these very troubling messages and can understand why they would they would be alarming for any parent or carer.
The Coronavirus Act is very clear that we can only screen or assess a child for COVID-19 in the presence of their carer, parent or guardian.
For most people, children and parents will be asked to isolate at home as a family for 14 days if required. If, for any reason, this isn’t possible, alternative arrangements will always be discussed with the parents or guardians.
If your child displays symptoms it is very important that they get a test and that they do not go to school or nursery so that they don’t make any other children unwell. If they become unwell at school, you will be contacted, asked to remove them from school and advised to take them for a test.
More information on the powers Public Health Officials have under the Coronavirus Act is available here.