POLITICS
22/05/2020 14:10 BST | Updated 22/05/2020 16:29 BST

This Is What Scientists Told Government About Reopening Schools

Ministers were advised by Sage that on balance children are less susceptible to coronavirus, but said their role in its transmission was "unclear".

Coronavirus has changed everything. Make sense of it all with the Waugh Zone, our evening politics briefing. Sign up now. 

Scientists advising ministers on the spread of coronavirus told the government the “balance of evidence” suggested the susceptibility of children to the disease “may be lower” than for adults – but said it remained “inconclusive”.

Amid a bitter row over whether it is safe for schools to reopen on June 1, the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) on Friday published the advice it had provided.

Sage said an understanding of the infectivity of children would have a “central influence” on what impact opening schools had on the overall spread of the virus in the community.

“Evidence remains inconclusive on both the susceptibility and infectivity of children, but the balance of evidence suggests that both may be lower than in adults,” Sage said.

In a paper produced on April 16, the scientists warned there were still “gaps in understanding” and that the role of children in transmission of Covid-19 was “unclear”.

They advised keeping classrooms closed would have a negative impact on the “more vulnerable children” in society for whom school “provides the most stable and secure part of their lives”.

Teachers do not appear to be at a greater risk of catching Covid-19 than other professions – but there is still some risk if schools reopen, the scientific advisers said.

The Sage papers also suggest that younger teachers’ attendance in schools could be prioritised in order to decrease the likelihood of infection for school staff in more vulnerable groups.

Boris Johnson has said he wants reception, Year 1 and Year 6 to return to school in England from next month as part of his strategy for easing lockdown restrictions.

But number of councils in England, including Conservative-run Solihull and Essex, have advised schools against reopening. 

Teaching unions, including the National Education Union (NEU), have also raised concerns about whether it is safe for staff and pupils to return yet.

A rival group of scientists, led by former chief government scientific adviser Sir David King, on Friday published its own report which concluded it was too early to reopen schools on June 1.

The Independent Sage committee said the risk to children would be halved if the restart date was delayed by two weeks.

The Scottish government aims to have all children back in schools on a part-time basis on August 11.

All children are intended to restart classes on a phased basis, involving a mixture of physical attendance and remote learning, in September if enough progress is made in curbing coronavirus.

The Welsh government has not given any dates for when the country can expect schools to reopen.