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‘There is no sign of a second wave’: Experts rubbish Matt Hancock’s warning

Britain is not entering a second wave of coronavirus infections and the young, mildly-affected people being diagnosed in rising case numbers are not likely to trigger a rise in hospitalisations, experts say.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock yesterday warned that the UK ‘must do everything in our power’ to stop a second surge of people going into hospital with the coronavirus, which he said was starting to happen in Europe. 

But experts told MailOnline Mr Hancock’s comments were ‘alarmist’ and that there is currently ‘no sign’ of a second wave coming over the horizon. The data shows hospital cases are also not rising by much in Europe, contrary to the Health Secretary’s claim.

As of yesterday there were only 764 people in hospital with Covid-19 in the UK, just 60 of whom are in intensive care. This is a sharp drop from a peak of 19,872 hospitalised patients on April 12.

The falling number of hospital cases comes despite infections having been on the rise since lockdown restrictions were lifted at the start of July. Experts say this is because the groups getting infected and diagnosed now are completely different to those at the start of the pandemic. 

Scientists say it is younger people driving up infections and they are less likely to get seriously ill and end up in hospital. For that reason, hospital cases and deaths will not necessarily follow higher cases, and there may not be a deadly wave like the first.  

Another 1,295 people were diagnosed with the virus in Britain yesterday, following 1,406 the day before, and the seven-day average number of daily cases is now 1,339 – a 27 per cent increase on last Tuesday and the highest since June 11. 

Professor Carl Heneghan, a medicine expert at the University of Oxford, said: ‘There is currently no second wave. What we are seeing is a sharp rise in the number of healthy people who are carrying the virus, but exhibiting no symptoms. Almost all of them are young. They are being spotted because – finally – a comprehensive system of national test and trace is in place.’

Mr Hancock said in the Commons yesterday that he feared this rise in infections in healthy people would creep into vulnerable groups if allowed to continue, saying it was a pattern seen in the US where cases are out of control again. 

His comments followed that of Dr Hans Kluge, the WHO’s Europe chief, who said he ‘wouldn’t be surprised’ if hospital admissions surged this November to levels seen during the worst days of the pandemic.

But scientists have shot down Mr Hancock’s doomsayer comments, pointing out that deaths have not risen in France or Spain, and the reason hospital admissions have not risen in the UK with diagnosed cases ‘simply reflects increased testing’. 

Official data from the continent shows Europe’s hospitals are not filling up with coronavirus patients despite a surge in positive tests – hospitalisations have been falling in France, Spain and Germany while cases have risen.

Open University statistician Professor Kevin McConway told MailOnline: ‘An important point is that numbers of Covid deaths in France have shown very little evidence of a rise recently. There has been something of a rise in deaths Spain, but not very marked at all.’ 

Statisticians say expansion of testing capacity means infections are being found more easily than at the start of the pandemic. In the UK alone, the number of tests being carried out has increased by 20 per cent from the start of July to now. But the number of positive results has gone up by only 0.3 per cent in the same period, suggesting new cases are a combination of more tests, and only a slight rise in infections in hotspots.  

Mr Hancock said yesterday: ‘I said in July that a second wave was rolling across Europe and sadly we’re now seeing an exponential rise in the number of cases in France and Spain. And the number of hospitalisations is sadly rising there too.

‘We must do everything in our power to protect against a second wave here in the UK.’

France recently recorded its biggest daily rise in coronavirus infections since March. Some 7,379 new cases were diagnosed on August 28 compared with the 7,578 cases recorded on March 31 – amid the peak of the pandemic in Europe. Some 26 Covid-19 deaths were reported on Tuesday.  

In Spain, cases are continuing to snowball with 8,115 new cases reported on Tuesday. Around 50,000 Spaniards have tested positive in a week, the health ministry said.

Hospitalisations are on the up in both nations, but not to levels seen at the peak of the first wave, as might be expected given cases are reaching the same heights. 

There are around 4,500 Covid-19 hospital patients in France right now, which sounds a lot but is the lowest it has been since March 19. It has been steadily declining since reaching levels of 31,000 in April. 

In Spain, Health Minister Salvador Illa stressed that the surge in infections had not led to heightened pressure on hospitals. The latest data shows there were 159 deaths registered in the past seven days, which remains far below the March-April peak, he said.   

Deaths are currently low for the UK, with just two on Monday and three on Tuesday, yesterday. The most up-to-date government coronavirus death toll for the UK stands at 41,504. It takes into account only victims who died within 28 days of testing positive. 

The Government’s fears that Britain is staring down the barrel of a second wave of hospitalisations and deaths like the one that devastated the nation in April and May have not been shared by all scientists.

Experts say a rise in cases was always expected when the country reopened and young people returned to work and social environments. It may even be safe to let the virus spread among those at the lowest risk of the death – the young and healthy – while still protecting the elderly.

Professor Lawrence Young, a virologist and oncologist at the University of Warwick, told MailOnline: ‘I think that Matt Hancock’s comments yesterday were a bit alarmist. Of course we need to remain alert and it is true that the number of infections across certain parts of Europe are rising as are hospitalisations. But not sure that this is really a “second wave rolling across Europe”.

‘I can, however, see the need to stress to folk in the UK that the virus is still around infecting people and that as we head towards the autumn/winter period we need to remain vigilant.’

Professor Young said although cases are on an upward trajectory, ‘it is becoming increasingly clear that people are less likely to die if they get Covid-19 now compared with earlier in the pandemic, at least in Europe’.

He added: ‘Possible explanations include that a larger number of younger people – 15-44 year olds – are now being infected compared to the first peak in cases in April and this group are less likely to get severe disease.

‘Two; there is now more effective treatment for patients with Covid-19 with far fewer needing mechanical ventilation; and three; less aggressive variants of SARS-CoV-2, particularly the D614G variant, are more prevalent – these remain very infectious but are less likely to cause severe disease.’

Professor Young added: ‘It was not unexpected that easing of lockdown and a return to more regular activities would result in more infections.

‘I guess the question is “when do local spikes in coronavirus infections became a second wave?”‘

Professor Carl Heneghan, who has followed Government statistics closely during the outbreak, wrote in an editorial for the Daily Mail yesterday that he believes it is safe for much of normal life to return carefully.

‘The Government urgently needs to send out a clear, concise message that the risk from Covid-19 is currently low,’ Professor Heneghan said.   

Professor Kevin McConway, an emeritus professor of applied statistics, The Open University, said it was important to keep an eye on cases in the UK, but that there was no indication the UK was heading towards a deadly second wave, and that a proportion of new infections in Europe were as a result of more testing. 

He told MailOnline: ‘To say that something – a second wave here – could happen is a long way from saying that it will happen. So far I see no sign that it’s happening.

‘On the position in France and Spain (and some other countries), well, the rates of new cases have certainly risen. However, it’s hard to compare the level of confirmed cases with what was happening back in March and April – because you don’t get a confirmed case unless the person has been tested. 

‘In the early stages of the pandemic, there was far less availability of testing in most countries than there now is. So one reason there are more cases is just that people have got better at looking for and finding them. 

‘I’m not claiming there hasn’t been a real rise in recent weeks in France and Spain, there certainly has, but the position isn’t like it was back in March and April. The level of cases [in the UK] remains a very long way below what it was at the peak of the pandemic here in March and April.

‘An important point, though, is that numbers of Covid deaths in France have shown very little evidence of a rise recently. There has been something of a rise in deaths Spain, but not very marked at all.’ 

Professor Rowland Kao, the Sir Timothy O’Shea Professor of veterinary epidemiology and data science, University of Edinburgh, admitted that looking at diagnosed cases alone, there is a ‘general trend towards larger numbers of cases’. 

He suggested it was unsurprising cases went up last week, saying: ‘Releases of restrictions, increased numbers of imports due to people travelling overseas, and evidence of poor adherence in some cases to such restrictions that remain, all have the potential to contribute to increased transmission. This trend also reflects patterns seen in other European countries which released restrictions earlier and therefore saw a case resurgence earlier.’ 

He added: ‘Whether or not this represents the beginning of a second wave of a national epidemic will depend on the ability of the test and trace system to respond effectively by stamping out as many local outbreaks as possible, quickly.’ 

Experts have conceded that outbreaks in England don’t necessarily mean the UK is heading for a second wave, and the rise in case numbers are not reflective of a nationwide rise in infections. 

Dr Andrew Preston, a reader in microbial pathogenesis at University of Bath, told MailOnline: ‘Initially, testing was restricted to those reporting symptoms, but this has eased and it’s now possible for a wider range of people to request tests.’

But he added it was ‘likely’ transmission was also being driven by more interactions between people since the lockdown has eased in the summer months, and this may continue as people go back to work, travel abroad and spend more time indoors as winter comes.

He added: ‘There has been lots of discussion on the continent about the recent “second wave” being driven primarily by the younger age groups.

‘In theory, infection among the age groups should not be a major problem (a small number will suffer disease). However, the danger is spill over into those who are at risk of severe disease. Hopefully, we have learned the painful lessons of the initial outbreak.’     

Dr Simon Clarke, an associate professor of cellular microbiology at the University of Reading, said the number are ‘moving in the wrong after plateauing’, but added: ‘It should be remembered that we have not yet seen corresponding increases in hospital admissions, let alone deaths and it seems likely that we’d need to see sustained increases in the daily numbers of fresh diagnoses and hospital admissions before the authorities move towards any significant tightening of restrictions on our lives.’  

Although diagnosed cases – published by the Department of Health and Social Care each day – are rising, testing data suggests this is not a concern.

Testing capacity has rapidly increased over the course of the pandemic in order to reach more people. And this has caused a slight increase in the number of people getting a positive result – but not to levels that suggest prevalence of the virus is soaring.

A significantly higher number of people are being tested since July – when diagnosed cases were at their lowest, NHS Test and Trace data shows.

Some 442,392 people were tested between 13 August and 19 August – an almost 20 per cent increase on the 355,597 tested between July 9 and 15.

However, the positive result rate only slightly went up, from 1.12 per cent to 1.4 per cent in the same period. This shows there are not more people testing positive in August than in July.

Commenting on these figures, Dr Duncan Young, a professor of intensive care medicine at University of Oxford, told MailOnline: ‘It is therefore very possible that the increase in cases is mostly related to increased testing, but will a small additional effect from the increased prevalence.’

Other data from Public Health England reveals a similar trend over the course of the pandemic. 

Testing has increased vastly from no more than 13,000 tests per day at the start of April to around 150,000 in July. 

During the same period, positive test results in Pillar 2 – which are those outside of hospitals and care homes –  went drastically down from a peak of 5.2 per cent in May to 1.4 per cent in mid-July, showing that less people were testing positive for the coronavirus despite testing reaching thousands more people.

This figure has risen slightly over this month from 1.6 per cent to 2.1 per cent in the week ending August 23. But it’s a small increase when comparing with the 5 per cent seen in May. Testing has shot up to almost 200,000 per day this month.

Dr Young said: ‘There are at least three possibilities for the rising “test-positive” case rate compared with hospitalisations; More people overall are being tested, but the proportion of the population (prevalence) is steady, so it is simply that more cases are being detected; The proportion of tested individuals that are positive is rising (ie there are really more cases); The tracing system has caused more patients who are at higher risk to be tested (because of exposure) meaning there were more positive tests in those tested but maybe not in the population.

‘It could also be a mix of all three.’   

Other Government data supports that cases nationwide are steady, with the Office for National Statistics reporting last week that ‘there is some evidence of a small increase in the percentage of people testing positive for Covid-19 in July, following a low point in June, but this continues to level off’. 

An estimated 2,200 people are catching the coronavirus every day – in stark contrast to the 100,000 per day in March. 

Professor McConway said: ‘I’m sure everyone would be happier if we could be reasonably confident that the infection rate is falling. It may well be falling, but at least these estimates indicate that it is not rising fast, nationally, and even if there is a slow rise, that doesn’t mean that it will continue to rise. We just can’t be sure.’

Meanwhile, updated estimates on the R number – how many people an infected individual passes the coronavirus on to – show the R number has risen in all regions of England and is now between 0.9 and 1.1.

And the growth rate – which reflects how quickly the number of infections is changing day by day – has also slightly increased. It estimates the number of new infections is somewhere between shrinking by 2 per cent and growing by 1 per cent every day.

But looking at both sets of data, Professor McConway said: ‘My interpretation is that both of them indicate that the rate of new infections is approximately stable at the national level.’ 

He added: ‘There are outbreaks in some places, and when outbreaks occur, actions are being taken and the rates of infection in those places generally decrease again. It’s more important to keep local outbreaks in check than to worry unduly about whether the national R number is just above or just below 1.

‘The daily published figures for confirmed new cases [from the Department of Health] are rather more up to date, but they are affected by quite large fluctuations from day to day in the numbers and type of people tested.’

Professor McConway said although cases have gone up, it did ‘not unduly concern me’. 

Professor Heneghan said drastic measures against Covid-19 shouldn’t be needed again and the first lockdown was only necessary because the country was overwhelmed with a new virus than nobody understood. 

He added: ‘The alarmists will say that such asymptomatic people are just as likely to spread the coronavirus – and are perhaps even more dangerous, because they don’t know they have it. That fear simply is not borne out by the experience of the past six months.

‘On the contrary, when the whole country was locked down, it was the younger people who remained free of the infection. And while everyone stayed home, it spread like wildfire in our hospitals and, most deadly of all, in care homes for the elderly.

‘Care home cases have now fallen sharply, though we have yet to eradicate the danger. We know that infection rates have risen among the young, but we are not seeing any subsequent infections among the elderly.

‘The evidence is becoming clearer. Young people provide no protection to older members of society by staying away from school, university and work. But they wreak terrible long-term damage in other ways by maintaining their social isolation.’   

Elaborating on his point in an article in The Spectator, Professor Heneghan added that other reasons hospital cases and deaths are coming down could be that doctors are better at treating the disease now or that the virus has changed, but he also raised the issue of test accuracy, suggesting some of the results are false positives.

He said: ‘A very high number of cycles may detect fragments and give a positive result but a lower number of cycles is far more likely to identify infected and infectious individuals requiring quarantine.

‘Evidence is mounting that a good proportion of “new” mild cases and people re-testing positives after quarantine or discharge from hospital are not infectious, but are simply clearing harmless virus particles which their immune system has efficiently dealt with. 

‘Those whose immunity is more active are exactly in the age group of observed “positives” and least likely to end with severe disease.’ 

He added that Covid-19 deaths may be lower across Europe than expected because the virus has evolved to be less harmful, with some published studies showing minor mutations. However, evidence on the theory that the virus has become less deadly is patchy. 

Deaths being announced each day by the Department of Health have tumbled since the peak of Britain’s Covid-19 crisis, with more than 1,000 patients killed some days in April. 

Health officials in Northern Ireland yesterday said there have been no new Covid-19 deaths for the fifth day in a row, with the toll standing at 560.

And no new coronavirus deaths were reported in Scotland in the last 24 hours, the latest Scottish Government figures show. It means Scotland’s death figure has stood at 2,494 for six days in a row.  

Wales reported one death yesterday across all settings after a four-day streak with zero new deaths, while NHS England reported nine. But not all were included in the Department of Health’s release because the two agencies have different time cut-offs. 

Mr Hancock said in the Commons yesterday that although death figures for the UK are low, ‘we must remain vigilant’, adding it was ‘vital’ everyone played their part in the defences against Covid-19, including social distancing, hand washing, and contact tracing.  

He said that ‘best case scenario’ is for a Covid-19 vaccine to be found before the end of this year, following the announcement that Oxford’s vaccine, one of the global front runners, is going into its final stages of testing. 

Until then, contact tracing is one of the most important lines of defence against the coronavirus. However, MPs slammed the failures of the NHS Test and Trace system while ‘rewarding’ the private sector for extending contracts.

Mr Hancock claimed the UK is in the ‘top tranche’ of test and trace systems that are in place around the world, despite official figures showing consistently fewer positive cases and their contacts are being tracked down, and defended ties with private companies.  

MPs quizzed the Health Secretary in the House of Commons yesterday about the failures of the critical NHS Test and Trace system, with Ilford South MP Sam Terry asking if contracts with private companies, which include Serco, Sitel and Capita, ‘with no track record in this instance’, would be continued.

An obviously irritated Mr Hancock said: ‘I will absolutely defend to all ends the teams who work on our NHS Test and Trace system, the private sector companies without whom this would be impossible.’

He stressed that the latest figures show 84.3 per cent of close contacts of Covid-19 cases were reached and told to self isolate, above the 80 per cent recommended by scientists for contact tracing to be successful.

Since the launch of Test and Trace, 80.6 per cent of close contacts of people who have tested positive for Covid-19 have now been reached through the system and asked to self-isolate. 

However, the most recent data, published on Friday, shows only 75.5 per cent of close contacts were reached and asked to self-isolate in the week August 13 to 19.

Week-on-week data shows the system is getting worse, with call handlers reaching a record low of just 72.6 per cent of infected patients last week.

It’s the fifth week in a row the number of Covid-19 cases tracked has fallen, dropping from the best performance of 82.8 per cent in the week ending July 22. 

Shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth questioned the Government’s track and trace figures given by Mr Hancock, telling the Commons: ‘I listened carefully to the figures (Matt Hancock) outlined but he didn’t tell the House that of the numbers actually going into the system, they have fallen in the last week – down from 79 per cent to 72 per cent. This system is not yet world-beating.’ 

Last week Mr Hancock acknowledged the system was ‘not quite there’, telling LBC radio on Thursday: ‘One of the challenges is we want to get NHS Test and Trace up to over 80 per cent of contacts, getting them to self-isolate – we’re at just over 75 per cent, so we’re nearly there but not quite there.’

Mr Hancock said testing is set to be ramped up with new rapid Covid-19 tests that can give ‘on the spot results’ in 90 minutes and do not need to be conducted by a healthcare professional. 

He told the Commons about the new ‘rapid test for coronavirus and other winter viruses’ that will help to ‘break chains of transmission quickly’.

‘These tests do not require a trained health professional to operate them, so they can be rolled out in more non-clinical settings,’ he said.

The Health Secretary also outlined details of the ‘pay to isolate’ scheme, which came following the criticism there was not enough financial support for people being told to self isolate for 14 days, potentially losing pay.

He said: ‘Today we also launch our new system of pay to isolate. We want to support people on low incomes in areas with a high incidence of Covid-19 who need to self-isolate and are unable to work from home.

‘Under the scheme, people who test positive for the virus will receive £130 for the 10-day period they have to stay at home. Other contacts including, for instance, members of their own household who have to self-isolate for 14-days will be entitled to a payment of £182.’ 

Also in the Commons, Health minister Helen Whately said care homes looking after older residents can now access repeat testing – but said there are delays in getting these tests for staff. 

Labour’s shadow health minister Liz Kendall called for every care home to test its staff for Covid-19 on a weekly basis, and said: ‘Ministers initially promised weekly testing for care home staff by July 6. They then abandoned that pledge and said routine tests wouldn’t happen until September 7.

‘With more than 15,000 deaths from Covid-19 in care homes so far, and winter and the flu season fast approaching, regular weekly testing of care homes is critical.’

Responding during health questions, Ms Whately said: ‘There has been a delay to our repeat testing of care homes because of particular issues with some of the test kits.

‘We are now able to offer repeat testing to all care homes for older people and we’ve been able to open up the (testing) portal to those with working-age adults as residents, and we’ve initiated our second round of repeat testing for the elderly sector.’ 

It comes as Dr Hans Kluge, the WHO’s Europe chief, said he ‘wouldn’t be surprised’ if hospital admissions surged this November to levels seen during the worst days of the pandemic.

Speaking on the Radio 4 Today programme, he warned Britain was facing ‘three phenomena’ in the colder months on top of coronavirus – including children picking up the disease at school, an uptick in influenza cases and excess deaths among elderly people. 

It follows the revelation that Government documents say most people won’t get the flu jab until December despite a Government drive to get everyone vaccinated to protect the NHS this winter.  

Cases have already shown to be rising across the UK, with Scotland seeing record numbers of positive tests since May, with 154 discovered in the past 24 hours. 

The First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said this week that she feels ‘a greater sense of anxiety today’ than at any time ‘probably for the last couple of months’.

But although the numbers of coronavirus cases is rising again there is no evidence of this leading to more people ending up in hospital or dying, as had been feared.

Experts suggest that cases are now being picked up more often in younger people, who almost never die of the disease, and that hospitals are now better at treating Covid-19 than they were at the start of the pandemic.

However, a member of SAGE said last week that there may be a delayed uptick in hospitalisations and deaths in the coming weeks if younger adults pass the virus onto older relatives. 

Officials have already been planning ahead for a potential second wave, and have been organising the biggest ever flu vaccination programme for the UK.

The Government pledged to reach 30million people including everyone over the age of 50 and 11-year-olds. 

The plan was to cover more of the at-risk groups so that fewer people get seriously ill with the seasonal flu, which will relieve pressure on hospitals that are in danger of facing a resurgence of Covid-19 cases this winter. 

But leaked documents, seen by The Telegraph, reveal services aim to ‘extend the vaccine programme in November and December to include the 50-64 year old age group’.

It is recommended to get the flu jab in the autumn before flu starts circulating, therefore millions could be at risk of catching it before they can get vaccinated. 

The documents say healthy patients aged 50 to 64 may not receive the jab at all, despite Health Secretary Matt Hancock boasting that the UK had ‘the biggest flu jab programme ever this autumn’. 

The vaccinations ‘might’ be offered ‘following prioritisation of other eligible groups and subject to vaccine supply’.

Last year 15million people in England were vaccinated, but this was less than half of eligible people. It suggests if everyone in these groups took up their free jab this year, there would not be enough for additional people. 

Increased flu vaccinations are planned to help reduce pressure on the NHS this winter by preventing flu-sickness which can cause hospitalisation and even death.

An bad flu season with a second wave of coronavirus will cripple the NHS and cause chaos figuring out which patients have flu and which have Covid-19, as the symptoms are similar. 

But the world may be one step closer to getting a coronavirus jab after Oxford University’s vaccine candidate entered its final stage of tests in the US.

UK drug giant AstraZeneca, which owns the rights to the vaccine, said it had enrolled 30,000 American volunteers to take part in its phase three clinical trial.

It now means 50,000 people worldwide are taking part in studies to see whether the jab – known as AZD1222 – can actually prevent people getting infected with Covid-19.

Thousands of volunteers have already been injected with the experimental drug in the UK, Brazil and South Africa and are being monitored by scientists.

Studies had to be moved abroad over the summer – to South Africa and Brazil where Covid-19 is still rife – to speed up the trials.

There are not enough people catching the virus in the UK anymore to be able to reliably test whether the jab is working.

Oxford’s Professor Sarah Gilbert, the brains behind the jab, said preliminary data from trials in these countries could be expected in the coming weeks.

Cambridge-based AstraZeneca said further trials are planned in Japan, where there has been a deadly second wave, and Russia, where there have been a million cases.

AstraZeneca and Oxford scientists have repeatedly promised to deliver the vaccine to the most vulnerable groups to Covid-19 by the end of the year.

AstraZeneca has also struck deals with manufacturers in China, the US, and across Europe as it looks to supply the entire world with the Oxford jab. 

Meanwhile, the British drugmaker yesterday struck a deal with Oxford Biomedica to mass-produce the vaccine if it is proven to be effective. 

The company says it will receive £15m as a capacity reservation fee, plus as much as £35m to make multiple large-scale batches of the vaccine if it works.

Gene and cell therapy firm Oxford Biomedica will be the sole manufacturer of the vaccine in Britain for 18 months. 

Early trials have shown promising results, with tests showing the vaccine is safe to use in humans and appears to provoke an immune response. But data that proves it protects people is not expected until later this year. 

To prove without doubt that it protects people from infection, vaccines need to go through rigorous phase three trials.

In these tests the vaccine is being given to tens of thousands of people in real-world environments to see if it stops them from catching Covid-19 in the community.  

UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock says frontline health and care workers, and those at an increased risk of serious disease, including elderly care homes residents, will be first in line to get access to a vaccine. 

Over-50s and those with heart and kidney disease will be next, according to Mr Hancock, who said health bosses were also considering fast-tracking access for people from BAME backgrounds, who are disproportionately affected by Covid-19. 

It’s more likely the average person will get their hands on a Covid-19 sometime in early 2021, according to the UK’s vaccine tsar, Kate Bingham.

Mass-manufacturing is already under way, however, so that the vaccine can be produced as quickly as possible. 

AstraZeneca claims it can manufacture  two billion doses by summer 2021. The US has already ordered 300million doses and the UK has pre-purchased 100million. 

Meanwhile, millions of pupils in England return to school for the first time in almost six months, but will be faced with strict new rules to control the spread of the coronavirus.

But two studies published recently should reassure parents that their child will be safe from the virus, after months of fiery debate between ministers and teachers’ unions.

One study found that children in the UK under the age of 10 years old are almost 20 times more likely to die from an accidental injury than of Covid-19. 

Scientists led by Newcastle University also found under-10s are twice as likely to die from flu than they are from the coronavirus.

When looking at the risk of Covid-19 deaths in those between the ages of 10 and 19, it was three times lower than the risk of dying from an injury. 

However, Covid-19 deaths were estimated to be four times higher than flu in that group, the study found. This showed people should not ignore the coronavirus completely and should still be cautious, the researchers said.

A small number of Covid-19 deaths were among children in the UK – 12 in the 10-19 age group and three in the under-10 age group. 

Most of these children would have had underlying health conditions, research has shown, which make them more vulnerable to serious illness.

Another study revealed that children are six times less likely to spread coronavirus than adults.

The research tracked how the coronavirus spread in a group of 1,900 people, mostly children, who spent five weeks at summer camps in Spain.

They were mixing in similar situations to schools but spent most of their time outdoors and not in classrooms, the researchers in Barcelona said.

Swab testing every week found 30 infected children passed the virus on to just 12 others, despite having more than 250 close contacts in their ‘bubble’. 

The children’s R rate – the number of people an infected person transmits the virus to – was 0.3. In comparison, the R rate of the local area was 1.7 to 2, meaning the children were six times less infectious than the general population.

Professor Heneghan called for the Government to put out clear and concise messaging that schools were very safe, criticising the ‘alarmist’ view that schools could be breeding grounds for the virus, saying there is no evidence to back it up. 

He said: ‘We need to reassure parents that it’s safe for children to return to school this week.  

‘School-age pupils are the least likely to display any Covid-19 symptoms, and it will be a tragedy if they are denied the chance to restart their education by ill-founded fears.

‘We need our children to be smarter than ourselves to ensure we do not repeat the mistakes of our current generation – we need them to be in class.

‘The alarmists will say that such asymptomatic people are just as likely to spread the coronavirus – and are perhaps even more dangerous, because they don’t know they have it. That fear simply is not borne out by the experience of the past six months.’

‘School-age pupils are the least likely to display any Covid-19 symptoms, and it will be a tragedy if they are denied the chance to restart their education by ill-founded fears.

‘We need our children to be smarter than ourselves to ensure we do not repeat the mistakes of our current generation – we need them to be in class.’  

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