School closings have minimal impact on the spread of the coronavirus, but have a detrimental effect on children and society, suggests a review.
Researchers have found that school closures alone can reduce deaths in the UK during the Covid-19 epidemic by as little as 2%.
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But experts from University College London warn that the costs are “high”, the health and education of children being damaged and family finances being affected.
They reviewed 16 studies on the impact of school closings and other social distancing measures in previous epidemics.
They say schools will need to think about how to protect students when they reopen – perhaps staggering start and break times.
Nine out of ten students worldwide – more than 1.5 billion young people – are currently out of school because of the coronavirus.
Study leader Professor Russell Viner said: “We know from previous studies that school closings are likely to have the greatest effect if the virus has low transmissibility and attack rates are higher. high in children. It’s the opposite of Covid-19.
“Data on the benefits of school closings in the COVID-19 epidemic are limited, but what we do know shows that their impact is likely to be small compared to other infection control measures such as l ‘isolation of cases and is only effective when other measures of social isolation are adhering to.
“In addition, the costs of national school closings are high – children’s education is compromised and their mental health may suffer, family finances are affected, key workers may need to stay at home to caring for children and vulnerable children can suffer the most. ”
Professor Viner said that policy makers must be aware of the evidence when considering closures because of the “profound and lasting effect” they will have on children.
He added, “Countries that have closed schools, like the UK, now have to ask tough questions about when and how to open schools.
“Interventions in schools, such as closing playgrounds, keeping students in constant groups / classes; increasing the spacing between students in classes, reducing the school week and spreading start and break times between years or classes should be considered if restrictive social distancing policies are to be implemented implemented for long periods. “
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Robert Halfon, chairman of the Commons Education Committee, said yesterday that he thought there would be school reopenings when the pandemic began to ease.
The Conservative MP said, “We are walking hand grenades potentially at the moment to spread this disease.
“And that’s what I think is behind the government’s decision [to impose a lockdown]. I suspect that when things get better, we will be allowed to step out.
“Vulnerable citizens will probably be invited to stay at home and there will be openings of schools, restaurants and businesses.
“But the only thing we can do is follow the advice of the chief medical officer and the chief scientific adviser.” “
The results of the review are published in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health.
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