The former government advisor Professor Neil Furguson has warned that once schools return in September the coronavirus transmission rate “will go up.”
Professor Furguson warned the government must “plan for all contingencies” as they prepare to reopen schools.
Whilst there is evidence to suggest young children in primary schools pose “very little risk of transmission” there are real “concerns” over older pupils.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, “The risk then is that big schools, comprehensives, universities, FE colleges, link lots of households together, reconnect the social network which social distancing measures have deliberately disconnected.
“And that poses a real risk of amplification of transmission, of case numbers going up quite sharply.”
He added, “In terms of the reproduction value, the ‘R’ value, opening high schools could increase it by as much as a half, but by as little as 0.2 or 0.3, but it will go up.
“Given we’re at ‘R’ equal to one at the moment, clearly we don’t want ‘R’ going up to 1.5 or so, that would… lead to quite rapid growth of the epidemic.”
Furguson warned that the government will need to do “some tightening up” of restriction by opening schools does raise the R rate.
He added: “Whether, in high schools, FE colleges, it is necessary for children to go back 100% or whether we can have other alternative means of provision, children being in one week and out the other week, therefore reducing contacts in school and outside school, or whether we row back on the relaxation of restrictions in the rest of society to allow schools to be fully opened, for instance social venues, leisure venues, more working from home – those things.
“I mean that really is a policy decision, but I’m just saying, in my view, it is likely that some form of those measures will be necessary to maintain control of transmission.”
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said Labour will accept “tough decisions” to ensure children can get back to school in England by September.
Ashworth told the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, “We think that getting children back into school has to be an absolute national priority, they have to be back into school safely and we need to use these next four weeks of August to get really on top of these infections, to drive them down by improving testing and tracing.”