As a result, politicians are now being asked to decide whether to open schools to protect children’s mental health and education without any clear scientific guidance on the risks of triggering a second wave of Covid-19 and infecting school staff in the process.
It is known that children are less likely to get sick if they are infected with the coronavirus, but researchers still do not know how easily they can infect others. Some research indicates that children are much less likely to be infected than adults, but other studies suggest that when infected, they carry as much viral load as an adult and therefore have a real risk of transmitting the virus. virus to others.
The situation was summed up by a senior Labor official last week: “Either you are putting the education of children at risk by closing schools, or you are risking their safety. There is no easy answer. The problem is that if we tell parents that they have to send their children to school, and there is a terrible case involving a teacher or student who contracts Covid-19, then it is all over the media . “
Conservative MP Robert Halfon, chairman of the select education committee, last week supported calls for a gradual reopening of schools. “It is vital that children return to the classroom when it is safe to do so. Otherwise, we will face a decade of educational poverty and a safeguarding crisis affecting vulnerable children. “
Dr Alasdair Munro, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Southampton University Hospital, also supports an early return to school. To support the idea, he highlighted a key study done in the Italian city of Vò, where there was a major Covid-19 epidemic in February.
“The authorities have tested more than 80% of the population and found that 2.8% were positive for the coronavirus. Above all, no child under the age of 10 was found to be infected, which remained the case when the test was repeated two weeks later. However, a number of children lived in homes with infected people. “
Other studies in Iceland, Norway and South Korea have also found very low rates of infected children in the communities. However, these results contrast with last week’s disclosure by the Office for National Statistics that, when tested on 10,000 people in the UK, it found “no evidence” of differences between groups of age in the proportions of people tested positive. “It threw a bit of a wrench in the works,” admitted Munro.
In addition, there is the question of how much virus a child could carry, which would indicate how easily he or she could continue to infect others. If children have lower viral loads than those usually carried by an adult, children would be less likely to increase the rate of infections.
However, research by a team led by Christian Drosten, a German coronavirus expert at Charity Hospital in Berlin, found no significant differences between the age categories, including children. “Viral loads in very young people do not differ significantly from those in adults. Based on these results, we must warn against unlimited reopening of schools and kindergartens in the current situation. Children can be as contagious as adults. “
In contrast, a study – done by Kirsty Short at the University of Queensland – found that children are rarely the first to introduce an infection into a household. In only 8% of the cases were children who brought Covid-19 to a home. This figure contrasts with the flu, where children are thought to trigger cases in about 50% of household outbreaks, and this suggests that Covid-19 will not be easily transmitted to homes by students returning from school.
Munro described this finding as reassuring and said he thought it would be prudent to reopen schools slowly and carefully. “I can understand why people are afraid,” he told the Observer. “We still do not know the exact role of children in the transmission of the virus. However, it seems to be less than adult participation.
“Children are the safest group to get out of solitary confinement because they have the lowest risk of getting sick from Covid-19 and appear to have a lower risk of infecting others. And we must also remember that keeping them out of school affects their long-term life prospects. “
This opinion was supported by Professor Saul Faust of the University Hospital of Southampton. “The slow and controlled opening of schools will be a low risk to the health of children and a lower risk to teachers than to many other workers in public transport or other environments.”