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expert reaction to document endorsed by SAGE about children, schools and transmission

A document endorsed by SAGE has been published on the scientific evidence supporting the government response to COVID-19.


Dr Sarah Lewis, Senior Lecturer in Genetic Epidemiology, University of Bristol, said:

“It is comforting to see that even with much more data the risk to children of having severe consequences from the virus is extremely low. In addition, the finding from ONS that teachers were not more likely to catch the virus than other professionals is reassuring and suggests the measures in place to reduce transmission in schools are working. It is also a positive development that the R-rate is now below one in Scotland, even though schools have remained opened since August. As anticipated by many scientists, this report shows with greater mixing, children are more likely to contract the virus, and they can transmit it, although evidence still suggests they are less susceptible than adults particularly younger children.

“I am glad to see the detrimental mental health​ impact and the impact on learning of schools being closed have been acknowledged in this report and it will be important to keep this in mind whilst trying to offset any role that children play in household transmission in future.”


Prof Mark Woolhouse, Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology, University of Edinburgh, said:

“This SAGE-endorsed report is a useful compendium of the state of the COVID-19 epidemic in the UK in relation to schools.

“There are no signs that the re-opening of schools in August (in Scotland) and in September (in England) has caused a significant public health problem. This is what we would expect given that children are at very low risk of serious illness and that school staff are not at greater risk than other professions. Nor have major outbreaks in UK schools been reported to date, which is consistent with international evidence that large outbreaks in schools are rare. Even small outbreaks in schools are more likely to involve the staff than the children.

“The report does highlight two points that need close monitoring. First, older schoolchildren are testing positive in surveys at a higher rate than any other group except young adults. This is not surprising given that schools are operating much closer to normality than most other parts of society. Second, there is evidence that children are quite frequently bringing infection into households (without necessarily infecting anyone else). This is not surprising either; it follows from the first point.

“A key question is whether transmission within schools is driving the epidemic and keeping R above 1. Studies from countries including Germany conclude that they are not. UK data are consistent with this. In the UK the second wave appears to have started with the spread of infection in young adults prior to the re-opening of schools.

“Overall, the signs are encouraging that schools can safely remain open, though close monitoring of the epidemiological data and regular re-appraisal of the still-developing evidence base are essential.”



All our previous output on this subject can be seen at this weblink:



Declared interests

Prof Mark Woolhouse: “No COIs to declare”

None others received.



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