The government’s scientific advisors are predicting there will be “exponential increases” over the next month, leading to “high prevalence” in schools by the end of September
Image: Getty Images)
England’s schools are “highly likely” to see a Covid surge as classes return next week, the government’s scientific advisors have warned.
Experts predict there will be “exponential increases” over the next month, leading to “high prevalence” of the virus in schools by the end of September.
Boris Johnson ’s government should “plan for this eventuality”, according to the statement by SAGE sub-group the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (SPI-M).
It is likely to ramp up pressure on the government to decide whether all children aged 12 to 15 should get the Covid vaccine.
While vulnerable kids and all 16- and 17-year-olds have been able to get their first dose, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) is still deciding whether to extend the jab to healthy younger children.
The Mirror understands government advisors are still locked in talks, with no breakthrough expected before next week at the earliest.
While children are at low risk from Covid themselves, they can spread the virus to others in society, raising the risk before booster jabs are rolled out.
The SPI-M paper, dated August 11 and published today, notes the proportion of tests coming back positive rocketed from 0.1% to 1.5% in the last half-term.
“Positivity will highly likely increase again once schools reopen in the autumn,” the paper says.
The experts warn schools are likely to see outbreaks for several reasons.
Schools have “a high proportion of remaining susceptible individuals” in society, as most children have not been vaccinated. They have also ditched bubbles, face masks and other measures aimed at curbing Covid rates since the spring term this year.
“It is highly likely that exponential increases will be seen in school-attending age groups after schools open,” the paper says.
“Vaccination will also have made almost no difference in these population groups over the summer holidays.”
The paper assumed a fifth of pupils have immunity. It predicted that if pupils’ immunity was less than 40%, the R number was likely to tip above 1 in schools next month and cases would spread exponentially.
Earlier SPI-M research pointed to schools breaking up for summer as one reason why England’s cases dipped in late July. It also said the Euros ending, the warm weather, and the “pingdemic” of mass isolation may have helped.
The paper concluded: “It is highly likely that high prevalence will be seen within schools by the end of September 2021.
“This may reflect either community or within-school transmission, and the role of schools in driving wider transmission remains uncertain.
“Regardless of this, it would be sensible for government to plan for this eventuality.”
Latest data shows Covid cases have risen in all four nations of the UK as 1 in 70 people in England are now infected.
One in 140 people in Scotland – where schools returned on August 18 – were estimated to be infected in the week to August 20.
This was a major rise from 1 in 200 people the week before.
It comes as revellers head to festivals and families prepare to enjoy the bank holiday weekend.
Music-lovers are being urged to test for Covid-19 before they go and when they return, and not to visit older or more vulnerable loved ones in the days after events in a bid to avoid spreading the virus.
Public Health England strategy response director Dr Susan Hopkins urged people to “do a test before you go, wear a face covering if you’re travelling to and from the festival if you’re using public transport, and socialise outside as much as possible”.
She added: “Make sure you take an LFD (lateral flow) test when you get home, and then test twice a week after having mixed with a large group of people, as you could have Covid-19 without having symptoms. Try and avoid seeing older or more vulnerable relatives so that you don’t pass anything on.”
Nicola Sturgeon said she was “not currently considering” introducing tough curbs for Scotland – despite a record number of new Covid-19 cases and a steep rise in patients in hospital with the virus.
The First Minister told a coronavirus briefing that 6,835 new cases had been reported in the past 24 hours – the second time in a week that a record, new, daily figure has been reported. Insisting that “none of us want to go backwards to even limited restrictions”, she added: We are not currently considering a circuit breaker lockdown.”