Rising cases of the common cold could be giving a false picture of the spread of coronavirus among children.
Public Health England’s weekly coronavirus report shows a rise of almost 23% in rhinovirus infections, which include the common cold, in the last week.
Among children aged five to 14, back at school since earlier this month, the rate of infection shot up by nearly 80%.
The survey acknowledges that it “may account for some of the acute respiratory incidents reported”.
Large increases in NHS 111 cold/flu calls and GP out of hours consultations for influenza-like illness were also recorded.
Acute respiratory infections (ARI) rose by 729 over the last seven days, including 193 cases in educational settings.
Of these, 110 had at least one linked case that tested positive for coronavirus, the report added.
On Friday, new confirmed daily cases of coronavirus hit 4,322 – the highest since 8 May.
And with COVID-19 cases now doubling every seven to eight days, the government is looking at introducing nationwide restrictions for a short period to try to “short-circuit” the virus and slow the spread of the disease.
It comes as a teachers’ union survey found more than four in five schools report having children off because they cannot get a test or are waiting for test results.
The National Association of Head teachers (NAHT) said 82% of the 736 schools surveyed have children currently not attending because they cannot access a test to rule out the illness.
Even more, 87%, have children currently not attending because they are waiting for their test results.
Almost half (45%) have staff off work because they can’t get a test while 60% have teachers absent waiting to find out if they have the disease.
Nearly all of the schools (94%) have children who have had to stay at home due to suspected or confirmed cases of coronavirus this term.
More than three-quarters (78%) have staff who have had to self-isolate since term began earlier this month.
Paul Whiteman, NAHT general secretary, said: “Tests for COVID-19 need to be readily available for everyone so that pupils and staff who get negative results can get back into school quickly.
“But we are hearing the same thing repeatedly from our members across the country – chaos is being caused by the inability of staff and families to successfully get tested when they display symptoms.
“This means schools are struggling with staffing, have children missing school, and ultimately that children’s education is being needlessly disrupted.”