Only one previously healthy child has died of coronavirus in England and children make up a fraction of cases, an official study reveals.
The comparatively low impact on the young will reassure millions of parents and boost the Government’s determination to reopen schools next month.
Experts found that under-16s made up 1.1 per cent of the 130,000 confirmed Covid-19 cases during the first wave of the virus.
The research, led by Public Health England (PHE), concluded that children play a limited role in the pandemic and have a substantially lower risk of infection and death.
Eight children have died after testing positive for coronavirus in England, the study said, but in half these cases Covid-19 was not the main cause.
Of the other four children who died because of Covid-19, all aged between ten and 15, only one had no apparent previously diagnosed underlying health condition.
Experts analysed 129,704 positive tests taken between January and May. Fewer than one in 20 children who were swabbed tested positive, compared with around one in four adults. The death rate among the children was 0.5 per cent.
Lead author Dr Shamez Ladhani said: ‘Our results add to the growing body of evidence that children have a substantially lower risk of contracting Covid-19 than adults, and are also much less likely to become seriously unwell with the infection.
‘Schools are vital to the growth and development of children. It is important that we open schools safely and have systems in place to monitor infection and transmission of the virus in schools during the autumn term.’
The research, published last night in the Archives of Disease in Childhood, comes as Boris Johnson presses ahead with plans for all schools to open full-time in September – and undermines claims by the militant leader of the National Education Union that the ‘science is not clear enough’.
The authors suggest children are less likely to get infected because their immune system reacts differently and because it is harder for the virus to invade their cells.
Dr Ladhani said more research was needed to establish how easily children pass on the virus and if children without symptoms are spreading it in the community.
It is thought older children are more likely to be infectious than those at primary school, although health minister Edward Agar has insisted that research into the possible greater risk facing teenagers is still a ‘work in progress’.
The study found there has been no increase in excess deaths among children from all causes compared with the past five years, despite concerns that lockdown restrictions could put parents off taking sick children to hospital.
Professor Russell Viner, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said the PHE study ‘confirms international evidence that children and young people as a group are little affected by this virus’.
Dr Mike Tildesley, an associate professor at the University of Warwick, said: ‘These results provide further supporting evidence that the reopening of schools in September should represent an extremely low risk to any individual child. With this in mind, the vast majority of parents should feel reassured.’