Ventilation in every classroom should be assessed and more community spaces and temporary units should be used to accommodate children returning to school, a leading public health expert has said.
Dr Gabriel Scally was speaking at an event on the safety of reopening schools during the pandemic, hosted by the Independent Scientific Advocacy Group (ISAG).
The webinar heard that additional mitigation measures, such as children wearing masks and better ventilation, are needed to prevent spread in schools.
In Britain, children aged 2 to 12 were twice as likely and those aged 12 to 16 were seven times as likely to be the first person in a household to contract Covid-19, UK-based epidemiologist Deepti Gurdasani said, adding that teachers were also at greater risk of infection.
Studies had shown that the reproductive or R number would rise above 1 once schools reopened, she said, warning that the impact of the new Covid variant, B117, would be “huge”.
“We need to stop giving schools and children special status because they are not special. Transmission occurs because they are crowded places where a lot of people meet,” she said.
Additional measures, he said, should include children wearing masks, hygiene, and handwashing, reducing the number of children and adults interacting, and larger spaces.
“I haven’t seen anywhere on these islands a major programme to take over extra space, to take over community halls or sports settings or commercial buildings or whatever, to provide more space so that children can be in bigger and better ventilated areas”.
Dr Scally said school authorities in New York city provide ventilation reports for every classroom.
Dr Scally added that it was “entirely unacceptable” to risk exposing children and young people to Covid-19 when the long-term effects were unclear.
“We don’t know what awful things this virus might have in store for us in the future. The protection of the health of our children is of crucial importance”.