Coronavirus experts on risk of sending children back to school

England's chief medical officer has said the risk of children catching coronavirus are "incredibly small" compared to the chances of them being damaged by not going.

Professor Chris Whitty's comments come as he joined the chief and deputy chief medical officers from across the four nations of the UK to issue a joint statement on schools and childcare reopening.

He said that while the risk to children of Covid-19 from returning to school was "not zero" the evidence that not going to school damages children in the long run was "overwhelming".

Prof Whitty said the statement was not guidance to parents but laying out the evidence of "things we know with confidence, the things that we think are probable and also some of the things we don't know and making clear there is always some residual risk".

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So here's what you need to know about sending your kids back to school.

The chance of a child dying from Covid-19 is 'incredibly small'

Prof Whitty said that there was "clear" evidence that the chances of children dying from Covid were "incredibly small" and they were less likely to get severe illness and end up in hospital due to the virus.

He added: "So the reason that is important to lay out is the chances of children catching Covid and then getting long-term serious problems as a result of it, solely due to going to school are incredibly small.

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"They're not zero, but they're incredibly small."

Covid-19 deaths in children and teenagers were "extremely rare" and almost all deaths were in children with significant pre-existing health conditions, the letter from the medical experts said.

Children are more likely to be harmed by missing school

Prof Whitty said: "The chances of many children being damaged by not going to school are incredibly clear and therefore the balance of risk is very strongly in favour of children going to school because many more are likely to be harmed by not going than harmed by going, even during this pandemic."

In their joint statement the chief and deputy chief medical officers of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland said there were "no risk-free options" but school attendance was very important.

The letter said that even most children who were previously shielding could return to school, although a small number of vulnerable students would receive individual advice about whether they should stay at home.

Children should not attend with symptoms

The chief and deputy medical officers said it was "essential" there was "clear advice for pupils and staff not to attend school with symptoms".

There should also be testing if needed, they said.

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Coronavirus can be spread in schools

The chief and deputy medical officers said that while transmission in schools does occur on current evidence it was not a "common route of transmission" – and is less likely in primary schools than secondary schools.

But they did add that there was a chance it could push the reproduction rate – the so-called R rate – above one.

This could mean that local councils, schools and other organisations have to step up measures to control the virus.

It also means that it's important to keep monitoring schools as they reopen, and that schools continue strict hygiene measures, such as washing hands and cleaning surfaces regularly.

Teachers, parents and students alike should also be aware that the virus could be spread outside the school building itself, such as when families meet at the school gates.

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Data from UK and international studies suggested transmission in schools may be largely staff to staff instead of pupils to staff.

Prof Whitty said there were "no easy choices" in confronting coronavirus.

When asked about closing pubs or restaurants to keep schools open Prof Whitty added: "The aim is, as far as possible, to do things locally so that if the surge in transmission at any points in a local area, we try and keep the other actions to the local area and tailor those as best as we can to what is driving the increase in those areas.

"If it was shops in a particular area we would need to look at shops, if it was hospitality, we would need to look at hospitality."