The government has announced that schools will be closing in England after Friday 20th March.
Dr James Gill, Locum GP for TitaniumHealth & Warwick Medical School – Clinical Skills, said:
“Whilst there have been very few cases of children being infected with COVID19 we cannot rule them out as a potential carrier. The theory being that one child is exposed at home, comes to school asymptomatically results in other children carrying back to their families. The concern is that schools, as with any gathering of people may act as a sink and source of transmission. By requesting closure of schools this reduces a potential source of spread.
“By closing the schools, that will require people to be available to care for the children who are no longer in the schools. This will by extension further the current approach of social distancing by keeping more people at home, so we may see a delay in further enforced restrictions of movement as the school closure effect is evaluated.”
Dr Michael Head, Senior Research Fellow in Global Health, University of Southampton, said:
“We expected to see a closure of schools at some point, so this announcement is not a surprise, but it will have a very big impact on the UK. We know from previous research and modelling during this pandemic that closing schools will have some impact on the spread of the coronavirus in the population. However, there will be huge secondary social and economic consequences, for example with childcare and the parent’s ability to work.
“The exit strategy, on when it is best to reopen schools, is also uncertain. Depending on how the outbreak continues, we may see schools opened for a period of time and then shut again (‘switching on and off’ the interventions).”
Dr Bharat Pankhania, Senior Clinical Lecturer, University of Exeter Medical School, said:
“I’m concerned about the impact of school absences and school closures. I suggest that we urgently test for Covid-19 presence or absence presence and close those where it is present, rather than closing all schools.”
Earlier today – original reaction: Expert reaction to the prime minister saying school closures will be “imminent”
Prof Stephen Reicher, Wardlaw Professor of Psychology, University of St. Andrews, said:
“The reason why school closures are such a tough call is that they raise the question of ‘what happens to the children’? If they mix as much outside as inside school – and potentially is less regulated circumstances – then the decision could be counter-productive. So the key question is how do you minimise contact once the schools are closed.
“Some of the answers to this question are general. It is important that everyone, children and parents alike, understand the rationale for closures and what is at stake: that the only way of impeding the spread of disease is to minimise contact, that even if people show no symptoms they could well be both infected and infectious. It is also critical that we consider the effects on the community. While most young people might be relatively safe from the virus, if they mix and spread the disease they will put the vulnerable amongst their friends, family and community at risk.
“Other issues differ between younger and older children. In the case of the younger the key question is who looks after them. If there isn’t the financial and practical support for parents to stay home, it is likely that informal swaps or nurseries will spring up and contact will happen that way. For older children the key issue is to give them resources so they have something to do at home and still stay in contact with their friends.
“This raises a broader issue. Many, have likened this crisis to a war, where we need to mobiise all parts of society together to meet the challenge and everyone must contribute. So yesterday we heard how the government is going to support business and industry but equally it is important to ask what business and industry can contribute. And ensuring the provision of internet facilities to keep people connected along with interactive platforms and games to keep them entertained at home will be a key contribution to helping people – especially young people – stay at home.”
Dr Charlotte Jackson, Senior Research Fellow, UCL, said:
“Closing schools aims to reduce contact between children, reducing the risk of them being infected and also of them passing the infection on to people in other age groups. The idea is that this will slow down transmission, so that the outbreak takes longer and has a lower peak. There are also operational considerations – it is difficult to keep schools open if many teachers are unable to come to work or if children are ill or kept home by concerned parents. It will be important to try to mitigate the potential adverse effects of school closures. For example, children will miss out on free school meals as well as lessons, and parents may need to miss work leading to loss of income and wider disruption. Dealing with these issues will be harder for some families than for others.”
All our previous output on this subject can be seen at this weblink: www.sciencemediacentre.org/tag/covid-19