CLOSING schools won’t have a major impact on new coronavirus cases because kids aren’t driving the surge in infections, a top professor has warned.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson last night revealed that millions of school kids in the worst-hit Covid hotspots will stay at home for at least an extra two weeks after the Christmas holidays end.
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They will stay closed until at least January 18.
But one expert has today warned that closing schools is a “bad idea”.
Professor Tim Spector, lead scientist on the ZOE COVID Symptom Study app said while cases are likely to get worse in the coming weeks, school children aren’t the problem.
His comments come as data from the app revealed that there have been 55,226 daily new symptomatic cases of Covid in the UK on average over the two weeks up to 26 December.
This is up from 38,719 cases last week.
App data also estimates that the R rate is at 1.2 across the country. This estimate differs from the government figures which last week suggested that the R rate could be as high as 1.5 in some places.
Data from the app also suggests that in England, daily new cases continue to rise but the numbers are being driven by big increases in London, South East and East of England.
Prof Spector said the South of England and Wales still face a tough time.
He added: “London will likely continue to get worse for another two weeks. Across the rest of the UK it doesn’t look too bad.
“With talk of tightening restrictions and school closures, we should remember that currently children are showing the lowest increases of any age group, so closing schools is a bad idea and will unlikely have a major impact on new cases, but will have long term consequences on children.”
January exams will still go ahead despite schools remaining shut in coronavirus hotspots.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said yesterday he would do “everything” to keep children in school, and the majority of primary schools will reopen on Monday, January 4.
But, in nearly 50 Tier 4 areas where infection rates are highest, all schools will have to close, including primaries, until at least January 18 – but this will be reviewed every two weeks.
That includes most of London, Essex, Kent, and a handful of areas in Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire and East Sussex – but children of key workers and vulnerable pupils can still attend.
Meanwhile, students set to sit GCSEs and A-levels will return on January 11.
INCREASE IN CASES
Prof Spector says school-age children aren’t the problem when it comes to a rise in cases, app data shows that cases are rising in other age groups.
App data states that cases in the under 18s remain low and have not risen recently.
However, data suggests that cases are rising rapidly in those age 20-49 and that cases in the over 60s are rising slowly.
The ZOE experts said that this is a “worrying metric” which is linked to a rise in hospital admissions.
It was yesterday reported that some hospitals in hotspot areas are struggling due to the amount of Covid patients they are receiving.
Buckinghamshire declared a “major incident” as medics buckle under the mass of Covid patients – after Essex was forced to call in the army to help at hospitals.
The move comes as the area was placed under strict Tier 4 restrictions last night.
Despite even more areas being forced into tougher restrictions, Prime Minister Boris Johnson last night said there was “light at the end of the tunnel”.
His comments came after it was announced earlier in the day that the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab had been approved by regulators.
The jab will be rolled out to the most vulnerable on January 4 and Sage experts also gave hope after they said the national lockdown could be over by the end of January.
Experts warned that with cases rising, further restrictions may need to be introduced before more freedom is allowed.
Doctor Mike Tildesley told BBC Radio 4: “Cases are rising in a really concerning way, so I suspect that unfortunately we will see a ramping-up even further of restrictions, probably more of the country being in Tier 4 or ultimately probably a national lockdown before we get to the end of January.”
Prof Spector added that while there is still “a lot of virus around the Oxford AZ vaccine there is light at the end of the tunnel as we head into 2021.”