Boost for schools reopening as biggest study of its kind finds children are 56% less likely to catch coronavirus than adults
- UCL researchers analysed 18 studies into link between virus and children
- Found risk of catching it was 56% lower in children compared to adults over 20
- Authors say ‘balance of risks for children is strongly towards a return to school’
- Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19
Children have half the chance of catching coronavirus as adults, leading British scientists have found.
University College London researchers analysed 18 studies looking into the link between the viral disease and children.
They found the risk of catching COVID-19 in children and teenagers was 56 per cent lower compared to adults over 20.
The scientists say their findings imply children are likely to play a lesser role in transmission of the disease because fewer of them get infected in the first place.
Lead author Professor Russell Viner told a press conference ahead of the paper’s publication today that the results show the ‘balance of risks for children is strongly towards a return to school’.
The UCL team are the latest experts to throw their support behind Boris Johnson amid a furious row about English schools restarting in June.
Eminent statistician Sir David Spiegelhalter, from Cambridge University, also claims the risk for children catching COVID-19 is ‘unbelievably low’.
Scores of councils have refused to reopen amid fears pupils will spread the virus between each other, their teachers and families.
Children have half the chance of catching coronavirus as adults, leading British scientists have found (Primary school children in Nice, France)
This is how social distanced desks will look at Holywell Village First School in Northumberland
In the largest study of its kind, UCL scientists analysed 6,000 international scientific papers looking into children’s susceptibility to infection and severity of illness.
Of them, just 18 were found to be of high enough quality to be considered in their analysis – half of which had not been peer-reviewed (scrutinised by other scientists).
Nine were contact-tracing studies, where researchers tracked close contacts of diagnosed patients.
Eight were population-screening studies, whereby random samples of society were tested for the virus.
Leading Cambridge University expert says risk for children catching COVID-19 is ‘unbelievably low’
The risk of children catching coronavirus is ‘unbelievably low’, according to one of the UK’s top experts.
Eminent statistician Sir David Spiegelhalter said data has also shown that teachers do not have a greater risk of becoming infected.
The University of Cambridge professor’s testimony comes amid an explosive row over the reopening of schools next month.
Professor Spiegelhalter pointed out that just one out of 7million children aged four to 14 in England and Wales has died from COVID-19.
He also claimed children carry just a fraction of the viral load compared to adults, which significantly reduces their ability to fall ill or infect others.
Professor Spiegelhalter told the BBC: ‘There have been, based on the data so far, extremely low risks to children. Out of 7million five to 14-year-olds in England and Wales, so far the number of death certificates revealed with Covid on it is one.
‘There will be more [that haven’t been confirmed], but there is still an extremely low risk. Of course we must remember this group of kids are staggeringly safe in general, less than one in 10,000 die every year. Nobody’s ever been safer in the history of humanity than this group of kids.’
Professor Spiegelhalter said that at least one child had died from a rare inflammatory illness linked to coronavirus, but reassured parents that the risk of the complication would now be ‘much lower now the epidemic in the community is under control.’
Asked about whether teachers and parents were being put at risk by schools reopening, the Cambridge professor said data suggested not.
He added: ‘The Office for National Statistics analysed Covid risks by occupation – some have higher risks, including bus drivers and care home workers.’ But teachers were not included in this category, he said.
‘Of course people are anxious about the rest of the family, but in healthy young parents aged between 20 and 40, there have only been about 30 death so far out of 30,000 who don’t have existing conditions.
‘There’s about a three in a million chance of risk of death. That’s a measurable risk, but in a sense it’s a manageable risk… it’s not overwhelming at all.’
And one was a systematic review of small household clusters, where entire families had been infected.
The analysis – yet to be published in a journal – showed that children and young people had 56 per cent lower odds of catching SARS-CoV-2 from an infected person, compared with adults over 20.
Researchers did not have sufficient data to examine whether children under 12 differed to teenagers in susceptibility.
Under-18s also appear to account for just one in 10 family clusters of the viral disease, although this was based on just one study so the evidence is weak.
While children appear less likely to catch the virus from others, once they are infected researchers remain uncertain about how likely children are to pass it on.
Lead author Russell Viner, professor of adolescent health at UCL, said: ‘There is an increasing amount of data now available on children and COVID-19, and this is the first comprehensive study to carefully review and summarise what we do and do not know about susceptibility and transmission.
‘Our findings show children and young people appear 56 per cent less likely to contract COVID-19 from infected others.
‘Susceptibility is a key part of the chain of infection, and this supports the view that children are likely to play a smaller role in transmitting the virus and proliferating the pandemic, although considerable uncertainty remains.
‘This new data provides essential evidence to governments around the world to inform their decision-making on whether to reopen schools and reduce or end lockdown measures.’
Co-author Dr Rosalind Eggo, an infectious disease modeller at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: ‘It [the study] suggests that children and young people are at lower risk of infection than adults and may therefore play a smaller role in the epidemic as a whole.
‘This new evidence will help us better understand the possible effect of school reopening on transmission in schools and in the community.’
It comes after a report by the ‘Independent SAGE’ committee claimed it is not safe to reopen schools on June 1.
Sir David King – who chairs the ‘Independent SAGE’ committee and was Tony Blair‘s Chief Scientific Adviser when he was prime minister – said it is ‘too soon’ for children to return.
His alternative SAGE committee of experts says delaying schools reopening for two weeks would allow for the Government’s ‘test, trace and isolate’ programme, including its delayed app, to be established.
In the first phase of his back-to-school blueprint, Boris Johnson wants children in Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 to go back to class on June 1.
An expert on Downing Street‘s scientific advisory subcommittee on schools claimed that these specific year groups were selected based on worries for their education and wellbeing – not that they are more shielded to the disease.
Although age is a factor in how at-risk an infected person is to Covid-19 symptoms, modelling found there was ‘no increased risk to one year group over another’.
The revelations that there is no difference in the vulnerability of certain year groups will likely whip up anger from teachers’ unions, who claim social distancing is much harder to enforce in primary schools.