Opening schools could fuel coronavirus spread, DfE adviser admits

May 13, 2020 by

Osama Rahman says there is ‘low degree of confidence’ in idea that children are less infectious.

Reopening primary schools in England from the start of next month could fuel the spread of coronavirus, one of the government’s scientific advisers has admitted.

Osama Rahman, chief scientific adviser to the Department for Education (DfE), appeared to undermine the government’s case for reopening schools when he gave evidence to the Commons science and technology committee on Wednesday.

Questioned by MPs, he admitted that a wider reopening of schools could bring together “hundreds of potential vectors” that could lead to the spread of the virus. He also said there was a “low degree of confidence” in studies suggesting children transmit Covid-19 any less than adults.

Asked whether there was a risk of the virus being transmitted when schools reopen, Rahman said there would always be a risk of transmission. “Even going to school anyway is not a risk-free environment,” Rahman said. “The question is to what extent that risk is acceptable.”

The adviser raised eyebrows when he was unable to give a figure for deaths among under-18s from Covid-19: “I don’t have those numbers to hand. It’s an important question.”

Carol Monaghan, a member of the committee, said: “As a former teacher listening to this, I don’t think the profession is going to be at all satisfied by what they are hearing at the moment.”

The government expects children in England to be able to return to nurseries, reception, year 1 and year 6 from 1 June at the earliest, and other primary year groups to return before the summer. The plans have been met with fierce opposition from education unions. Schools are currently open only to children of key workers and pupils classed as vulnerable.

Rahman told the committee there was little evidence to suggest children transmit the virus any differently from adults. “There are some studies which suggest that they might transmit it less than adults, but this evidence is mixed, it’s quite early, and so there is a low degree of confidence among Sage [the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies] currently in the evidence which suggests that they might transmit it less.”

Monaghan then asked: “Since there is a low degree of confidence, we are potentially putting together hundreds of potential vectors that can then go on and transmit – is that correct?”

Source: Opening schools could fuel coronavirus spread, DfE adviser admits | Education | The Guardian

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