No surge in Covid-19 cases expected when schools return – scientists
Experts do not expect a surge in coronavirus cases when schools reopen, MPs have heard.
Professor Mark Woolhouse said that there had never been a surge in cases following the reopening of schools across western Europe.
But he pointed out that some schools across the continent have kept schools shut to those age 15 and over – because they carry the virus in a similar way to adults.
We've never seen that in the schools, and I don't expect to.
The professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh also said that schools do not appear to drive the epidemic but “reflect the epidemic around them”.
But Professor Dame Angela McLean also told MPs that “children are quite often the first person that’s infected in a household”.
Prof Woolhouse, a member of the SPI-M scientific advisory group, told the Science and Technology Committee: “One of the stated reasons for keeping schools closed was to avoid some surge in cases when they open – that’s never happened across western Europe.
“There was a different prediction when the universities went back – there a surge in cases was expected and we saw a surge in cases.
“We know what a surge in cases looks like – we saw it in September and October in the universities, we’ve never seen that in the schools, and I don’t expect to.
“We do have to make a distinction, though. There is an issue about the oldest children who are more adult-like in the biology of the virus infection within them.
“So, what countries, other countries in Europe, have done – Sweden is a good example – is to keep their schools open to children up to 15 years old.
“Older children are more of a challenge, but for many of the children I think the contribution that they’re making to the cause of this epidemic has been proven by the data not to be that great.”
He added: “My view of schools is … that as much as anything they get caught up in what’s going on in the community, not the other way round.”
Asked whether there were concerns about whether schools reopening could drive up infection rates because of increased socialising among parents, Prof Woolhouse added: “I don’t know how many parents would sacrifice the opportunity to have their children back in school, for the sake of socialising at school gates.”
On how likely children are to bring infection into their home, Dame Angela, chief scientific adviser at the Ministry of Defence, told MPs: “Particularly when schools are open, children are quite often the first person that’s infected in a household.”
Prof Woolhouse said that in hindsight, the Government could have reopened schools sooner during the first lockdown.
But when asked about the easing of the first lockdown, Dame Angela said: “Caution was our friend – we did actually ease it pretty slowly and I would say things went very well.
“From May to September I would give a big tick and say that was well managed. In November we were hit with that new variant and, with hindsight, we came out of the November lockdown too early.”
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