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expert reaction to the Republic of Ireland closing schools

The Republic of Ireland has announced it closing schools in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

 

Prof Jimmy Whitworth, Professor of International Public Health, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said:

“I am sceptical about closing schools.  I don’t see any convincing evidence that children are driving transmission here, and school closures would cause lots of social disruption.  If it was part of a package of reducing gatherings, that would make more sense.  But I wouldn’t target schools particularly.”

 

Dr Charlotte Jackson, Senior Research Fellow, MRC Clinical Trials Unit, UCL, said:

“The decisions of whether, when and for how long to close schools are difficult.  There is evidence for influenza that reducing mixing between children can slow down transmission.  The effects are greatest when infection rates are highest amongst children, although that doesn’t mean there will be no effect at all if the rates are higher in other age groups.  A second important factor is how children’s contact patterns change when schools close – whether they are fairly isolated at home or if they still mix with other children, and perhaps with other age groups who may be at greater risk of severe infection.

“There are also important downsides to closing schools.  Parents may need to miss work and for some that means losing income – as well as the impact on those families, this may cause wider disruption and might be in addition to work absenteeism due to illness.  Children missing out on free school meals can have a big impact for some families.  Solutions such as online learning may not work for everyone.  These other issues mean that dealing with a school closure will be harder for some children and parents than for others.”

 

Dr Thomas House, Reader in Mathematical Statistics, University of Manchester, said:

“Deciding when to take action such as shutting schools is difficult.  On the one hand, it helps to contain the spread of infection; but on the other it creates wider problems in society, like missing out on education.  And if the closure is not carefully managed then children may spend more time with, and thereby increase the infection risk of, their grandparents, who appear to be more vulnerable to complications from coronavirus.

“At this stage, there is a diversity of opinion, but I would argue for a focus on quality over quantity of measures – ensuring that people are able to take adequate sick leave, and are supported in whatever ways are needed to make interventions effective and safe, for example.”

 

Prof Keith Neal, Emeritus Professor of the Epidemiology of Infectious Diseases, University of Nottingham, said:

“It is too early to tell whether this is a sensible precaution or an overreaction for the current stage of the epidemic.

“Different countries are at different stages of the epidemic so what one country should do WILL NOT apply to others, we need to be guided by the local epidemiology and the science.  This is why currently the UK has not followed these measures.  Schools will close soon for the Easter holidays which will give some idea of the impact of this measure.  Parents have already planned for childcare during these weeks.

“Closing schools has a number of known consequences.  It might make the epidemic or ability to manage the consequences worse:

“1) Reduction in the health and social care workforces as people have to look after children.

“2) An increase in grandparents delivering childcare – this age group is at much greater risk.

“3) Additional movements of children to different places across the city/town/village for childcare which would not have occurred.

“Children do not seem to get serious illness with COVID-19 and we do not yet know what role they play in significantly spreading the virus.

“The UK should adopt UK-appropriate measures and NOT give in to the demand for something to be done otherwise this will result in inappropriate actions at the wrong time.”

 

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

http://www.sciencemediacentre.org/tag/covid-19

The SMC also produced a Factsheet on COVID-19 which is available here:

https://www.sciencemediacentre.org/smc-novel-coronavirus-factsheet/

 

Declared interests

None received.

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