Experts warns reopening of schools in England could lead to new surge

A family pose for a photo in their home in north London, Britain. EPA-EFE/NEIL HALL

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The Guardian reports that opening schools to more children from Monday could lead to a new surge of infections of Covid-19 in the community, quoting a group of independent scientists.

The report, by the Independent Sage group, suggested that plans for whole classes to return to school in England on 1 June could increase the R-value of infections by 0.3 – potentially enough to put the country back on an ever increasing trajectory of infections.

The committee accused the government of not listening to its own scientific advice.

This is just too early,” said Sir David King, a former government chief scientific adviser and the chairman of Independent Sage. “We know that … opening up schools has the potential to raise R by up to 0.3. So we are really concerned that the level of infectivity across the country as a whole is too high to open schools.”

King established the Independent Sage group to look at how the UK could work its way out of coronavirus lockdown after the government’s official panel of scientific advisers, Sage (the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) faced criticism over a perceived lack of transparency.

Delaying school openings by two weeks could halve the risk of infection, the report estimates, while waiting until September would reduce the risk further. The governments in Scotland and Northern Ireland have already announced that schools will not reopen to more pupils until after the August holidays, while Wales has said its schools will not do so on 1 June.

A delay would give more time for infections in communities to fall – but also for the track and trace system, launched on Thursday, to be more extensively tested before being relied on to keep new infections in check.

Prof Karl Friston, a computational modeller at University College London and a member of the Independent Sage committee said that opening schools without more robust surveillance could mean that new outbreaks would initially go unnoticed. “You will only know in your region several weeks or months after you have made a mistake, hence the importance of real-time data,” he said.

Read more via The Guardian

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