Disease Experts Support UK Schools Reopening in September

August 11, 2020 Updated: August 11, 2020

Reopening schools in September is unlikely to cause a second wave of the CCP virus in the UK, because children rarely spread the disease, according to an infectious disease expert.

Emphasizing that he was speaking in a personal capacity, Mark Woolhouse, head of infectious disease epidemiology at Edinburgh University told the Daily Mail on Saturday that research shows low virus transmission rates of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus by children in schools.

There are no known cases of transmission of the virus from children to teachers in schools, he said.

“Science progresses by people publishing research. So what we do as carefully as we possibly can is scan what’s been published in the literature to see if there are any reported cases, in this case of a child transmitting to a teacher in the classroom,” he said.

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson joins a socially distanced lesson
Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson joins a socially distanced lesson during a visit to Bovingdon Primary School in Bovingdon, Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire on June 19, 2020. (Steve Parsons/Pool/AFP via Getty Images)

Despite many thousands of transmission events “still we can’t find a single one involving a child transmitting to a teacher in a classroom,” said Woolhouse, a member of a scientific pandemic group advising the government.

“The evidence so far is that the most dangerous room in the school is not the classroom, it’s the staff room. So schools need to pay attention to that, and not take their eye off the right ball.”

Concerns about a second wave of the virus have come following a UK study warning of a possible large second wave if schools re-open.

The study, led by University College London (UCL) and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, was published in the journal The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health on Aug. 3.

Based on their models, the researchers suggested that a second wave of the CCP virus, over twice the size of the first wave, could occur if children go back to school—unless very high levels of testing and tracing are carried out.

Woolhouse said, however, that this is not shown by a second study also published in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health on the same day.

Australian Study

The research, which was carried out in Australia, where schools in some states have remained open, looked at 10 early learning centers and 15 schools in New South Wales.

It shows that transmission in educational populations is minimal.

Twenty-seven cases, some of whom were children and some staff, were reported as primary sources of infection across the 25 establishments studied.

The infected children transmitted the virus at a rate of 0.3 percent, passing it to just two other children in school out of 649 close contacts.

There was a 4.4 percent transmission rate among infected staff members, who passed it to seven out of 160 close contacts.

Low Transmission

The Australian study concluded that “children and teachers did not contribute significantly to COVID-19 transmission via attendance in educational settings.”

Both studies come at a time of increasing debate on the issue of UK schools re-opening in September, which the government has made mandatory.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited an East London school on Monday where he spoke to BBC News at One.

“It’s not right that kids should spend more time out of school. It’s much, much, better for their health, their mental wellbeing … obviously their educational prospects if everyone comes back to school full time in September—it’s our moral duty as a country to make sure that happens,” Johnson said.

Some union leaders have criticized the government plans as inadequate.

Mary Bousted, head of the National Education Union, told the Daily Mail that she had advised schools to disregard “threatening noises” from the government and not re-open school unless they felt it was safe.

Referring to children going back to school in September, Geoff Barton of the Association of School and College Leaders told BBC News at One, “That movement of young people through the community is likely to lead to increased virus infection—so what’s the plan B?”

To reassure parents and staff working in schools, good leadership involves “scenario planning” he said.

New Research

The government’s plan to re-open all schools in September will reportedly be backed by yet further research showing low incidence of CCP virus transmission in schools.

The study carried out in 100 UK institutions for Public Health England and due later in the year, is one of the largest of its kind in the world, according to Russell Viner, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.

“This is some of the largest data you will find on schools anywhere,” Viner, a member of SAGE, the government scientific advisory group for emergencies, told The Sunday Times.

“There is very little evidence that the virus is transmitted [in schools],” he said.

Viner said it was “imperative” that schools open and cited months of missed classes and lost friendships among the damages children have suffered during closures.

Businesses that are “not essential to the future of society,” like cinemas and clubs, should close before schools if testing and tracing did not curtail any future spike in the CCP virus, he said.

This echoes advice given to the UK government by the Children’s Commissioner, Anne Longfield, in July that if infections in the UK begin to rise again, compared to pubs and non-essential shops, schools should be “first to open, last to close.”

Exactly how the return to school attendance in the UK will be carried out safely in areas like Greater Manchester, where there are still local lockdown measures in place, has also raised concerns.

Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham told BBC News at One that the test and trace system is not yet adequate.

“I’m saying to the government, look we need to work together to get this system right over August,” he said.