Plans to reopen schools plunged into chaos as experts clash over whether children can pass on Covid-19 – The Sun

EXPERTS have clashed over whether children can pass on Covid-19 — as the Government battles to get schools open by summer.

First, Swiss researchers said youngsters posed no threat of infection because they do not have the lung receptors targeted by the virus.

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But within 24 hours a review of Chinese cases and a German study suggested they were just as likely to catch it as adults.

The conflicting research comes as the Government is facing growing pressure, with ministers hoping to get classrooms reopened before the summer holidays.

There are fears thousands of vulnerable youngsters will be left behind if schools do not reopen in some form soon.

And many MPs believe getting children back into classrooms is vital to kick-starting the battered UK economy by freeing parents to work.

Yet, the studies will only serve to reinforce ministers’ grave doubts about acting too quickly.

On Wednesday, Switzerland had offered the UK a glimmer of hope of an early lockdown exit.

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Dr Daniel Koch, head of the infectious diseases unit at the Federal Office of Public Health, told reporters in Berne that the under- tens with no symptoms could freely hug their grandparents again.

He added: “Children are very rarely infected and do not pass on the virus. That is why small children pose no risk to high-risk patients or grandparents.”

The research followed a French study which showed a nine-year-old British boy who caught the virus while skiing had not passed it on despite contact with 170 others.

Hopes rose further when Education Secretary Gavin Williamson told MPs he was looking at plans for children in Years 5, 10 and 12 to return to school first.

But doubts were quickly cast on the Swiss research by British medics.

Prof Russell Viner, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said: “We don’t think that it would be a good idea for children to hug their grandparents in the UK without more data.

“We think that children probably transmit Covid-19 less than adults.

“But we need to be sure — and we would need to have a lot more data, particularly because grandparents are in the vulnerable group.”

That caution has been echoed by the US-Chinese study looking at 1,286 close contacts of 391 people infected in the province of Shenzhen.

Of those, seven per cent of young children caught the virus — the same proportion as in adults and older children. But most children displayed no symptoms.

Prof Simon Clarke, of the University of Reading, told The Times: “This is an important paper. It means we should be extremely careful.

“Reopening schools could expose parents, grandparents and teachers to infection and anyone they might come into contact with, risking a second wave.”

Tom Wingfield, of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, said: “We should definitely consider children as a pool for infection.

“In terms of what it means for transmission rates though, the honest answer is, we still don’t know definitively.

“Given they are less symptomatic, we can at least suspect they are not spraying out as much with coughing and sneezing.”

Last night, the German study of 3,712 patients also found no significant difference between young and old. It concluded: “Based on these results, we have to caution against an unlimited re-opening of schools and kindergartens at present.”

But Dr Ebere Okereke, of Public Health England, added to confusion by saying younger children were less likely to be affected and — unlike with the flu — less likely to be transmitters.

She added: “Traditionally, we associate children as people transmitting respiratory infections. This doesn’t seem to be the case here. And why is this different? We don’t know.”

'Young is safest group to be out'

By Russell Viner, Adolescent health expert

THESE reports do not alter the debate about whether or not children should return to school.

It is a balance of risks. Keeping pupils at home will damage their education, cause mental health problems, language problems and increase the gap between the rich and the poor.

Yet, allowing pupils to go back risks a second pandemic wave if it is not done carefully.

What we need to do is get as many children as possible back into education.

We could split year groups into mornings or afternoons only or they could do one week on and one week off to cut down social contact.

When the Government does relax the lockdown, probably the safest group to be out there is children. So ministers should plan for the reopening of schools to start early in the exit.

'Infected children could cause a surge'

By Dr Simon Clarke, Microbiology expert

GROWING evidence suggests children are just as likely to get infected as adults. So reopening schools could cause a surge in infections.

Few children have suffered serious symptoms but they could pass it between each other and infect parents, grandparents and teachers.

The swine flu outbreak of 2009 dropped like a stone when the schools broke up for summer. Then, within a few weeks of the schools going back, we had a second wave of the disease.

It is important to say there is a lot of conflicting evidence. The Swiss government, for example, took evidence from scientists and concluded children under ten do not transmit the virus.

But the truth is we do not yet know enough about this virus. I would argue it is better to err on the side of caution.

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