A senior scientist has said he would not send his child back to school on Monday 1 June – the government’s proposed date for a wider opening of primary schools – if he had an elderly relative or grandparent living at home with him.
Speaking at the launch of the Independent Sage committee's report on school openings today, Professor Karl Friston, a neuroscientist at University College London and a member of the alternative scientific expert group, said if he had a grandparent living with him, the risks would be “too high”.
Independent Sage: School openings on Monday not safe
Professor Friston said: “So the whole point of this modelling really is not to provide rules, it’s to provide a quantitative assessment of the amount of risk so you can make your own mind up. For example, if I didn’t have an elderly person or a grandparent in my house, I’d be quite happy accepting the risk of four times being killed in a road traffic accident today on sending my child back to school on 1 June.”
“If on the other hand, I had a grandparent in the home, that would be a bit too high. I’d want just a couple of weeks until [the risk] halved.”
He added that "local, informed, quantitative assessment of the prevalence of infection" is needed to help schools and parents make informed decisions on when to send more pupils back to school.
The committee has raised concerns about the specific impacts of Covid-19 on black, Asian and minority ethnic communities who are at higher risk and may be more likely to live in multigenerational households.
Professor Anthony Costello said there might be “hiccups” over the government’s testing and tracing system which meant that June 1 would be too early.
“There’s the issue of speed and there’s the issue of trust,” he said. “Firstly you’ve got to get test results back to people quickly and I don’t think it’s good putting it all onto patients and say ‘go off and find a test’ – the best person to organise a test for you is your GP if you email them or ring them, so that needs to be sorted out and I’m not sure that many GPs can do that.
“And because this is about integrating local sustainable primary care – you’re worried about your symptoms, you’re worried about positive tests, you think you might be in hospital and intensive care in a week’s time, and so you need to be followed up, and the speed of getting people and linking them into primary care is a fundamental part. If you just get rung up by some person who’s been trained for a few hours from a call centre 300 miles away, are you going to isolate for fourteen days? Your GP will know many of your circumstances and know many of your close contacts – if it comes from him or her, it’s more likely you’re going to comply,” he said.
Professor Costello said this would take at least two weeks to establish.