Children have half the chance of catching coronavirus as adults, leading British scientists have found.
University College London researchers analysed 18 studies looking into the link between the viral disease and children.
They found the risk of catching COVID-19 in children and teenagers was 56 per cent lower compared to adults over 20.
The scientists say their findings imply children are likely to play a lesser role in transmission of the disease because fewer of them get infected in the first place.
Lead author Professor Russell Viner told a press conference ahead of the paper’s publication today that the results show the ‘balance of risks for children is strongly towards a return to school’.
The UCL team are the latest experts to throw their support behind Boris Johnson amid a furious row about English schools restarting in June.
Eminent statistician Sir David Spiegelhalter, from Cambridge University, also claims the risk for children catching COVID-19 is ‘unbelievably low’.
Yet the PM has faced ferocious backlash from parents and teaching unions for his plan to get children in reception, year 1 and year 6 back to school on June 1.
Scores of councils have refused to reopen amid fears pupils will spread the virus between each other, their teachers teachers and families.
In the largest study of its kind, UCL scientists analysed 6,000 international scientific papers looking into children’s susceptibility to infection and severity of illness.
Of them, just 18 were found to be of high enough quality to be considered in their analysis – half of which had not been peer-reviewed (scrutinised by other scientists).
Nine were contact-tracing studies, where researchers tracked close contacts of diagnosed patients.
Eight were population-screening studies, whereby random samples of society were tested for the virus.
And one was a systematic review of small household clusters, where entire families had been infected.
The analysis – yet to be published in a journal – showed that children and young people had 56 per cent lower odds of catching SARS-CoV-2 from an infected person, compared with adults over 20)
Researchers did not have sufficient data to examine whether children under 12 differed to teenagers in susceptibility.
Under-18s also appear to account for just one in 10 family clusters of the viral disease, although this was based on just one study so the evidence is weak.
While children appear less likely to catch the virus from others, once they are infected researchers remain uncertain about how likely children are to pass it on.
Lead author Russell Viner, professor of adolescent health at UCL, said: ‘There is an increasing amount of data now available on children and COVID-19, and this is the first comprehensive study to carefully review and summarise what we do and do not know about susceptibility and transmission.
‘Our findings show children and young people appear 56 per cent less likely to contract COVID-19 from infected others.
‘Susceptibility is a key part of the chain of infection, and this supports the view that children are likely to play a smaller role in transmitting the virus and proliferating the pandemic, although considerable uncertainty remains.
‘This new data provides essential evidence to governments around the world to inform their decision-making on whether to reopen schools and reduce or end lockdown measures.’
Co-author Dr Rosalind Eggo, an infectious disease modeller at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: ‘It [the study] suggests that children and young people are at lower risk of infection than adults and may therefore play a smaller role in the epidemic as a whole.
‘This new evidence will help us better understand the possible effect of school reopening on transmission in schools and in the community.’
It comes after a report by the ‘Independent SAGE’ committee claimed it is not safe to reopen schools on June 1.
Sir David King – who chairs the ‘Independent SAGE’ committee and was Tony Blair’s Chief Scientific Adviser when he was prime minister – said it is ‘too soon’ for children to return.
His alternative SAGE committee of experts says delaying schools reopening for two weeks would allow for the Government’s ‘test, trace and isolate’ programme, including its delayed app, to be established.
In the first phase of his back-to-school blueprint, Boris Johnson wants children in Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 to go back to class on June 1.
An expert on Downing Street’s scientific advisory subcommittee on schools claimed that these specific year groups were selected based on worries for their education and wellbeing – not that they are more shielded to the disease.
Although age is a factor in how at-risk an infected person is to Covid-19 symptoms, modelling found there was ‘no increased risk to one year group over another’.
The revelations that there is no difference in the vulnerability of certain year groups will likely whip up anger from teachers’ unions, who claim social distancing is much harder to enforce in primary schools.