Government scientists say the reopening of schools may be contributing to the "significant" rise in Covid cases among pupils seen in the second wave of the virus.
However, a paper published by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) today says the extent to which transmission of the coronavirus is happening in schools is “unproven and difficult to establish”.
The report says the rise in cases among school-age pupils was “first visible” around the time schools reopened but adds that there is also evidence of epidemic growth in the wider population before this.
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The report has been published following a meeting between the government’s top health and science officials and education unions yesterday over the safety of keeping schools open during the current national lockdown.
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It says: “In the second wave, prevalence has risen significantly in school-age children, with the rise increasing initially among those in school Year 12 (age 16/17) to age 24 and young people (eg, secondary school age).
“The rising prevalence was first visible around the time that schools reopened. While this may be indicative of a potential role for school opening, causation, including the extent to which transmission is occurring in schools, is unproven and difficult to establish.”
It also adds: “There is no current direct evidence that transmission within schools plays a significant contributory role in driving increased rates of infection among children, but neither is there direct evidence to suggest otherwise.”
And it notes that although the increases in infection levels among children and young adults happened at about the same time as the opening of schools there is some evidence that epidemic growth in the wider population restarted before the reopening of schools.
Sage says that it has previously advised that the opening or closing of schools is likely to have an impact on transmission of Covid-19.
The report adds that potential increases associated with school opening could relate to changes in behaviour and contacts both inside and outside of schools.
It says: “This could occur directly, as children mix with others on their way to and from, and in school; or indirectly, if the opening of schools also enables other mixing to occur (such as parents being able to go to work, or socialising after dropping off children at school).”