Young children are as likely to get coronavirus as adults, said the Deputy Chief Medical Officer at today’s Downing Street coronavirus news briefing.
Dr Jenny Harries warned children are one of the two groups that are potentially at risk of contracting the virus, but said they ‘don’t get as ill’ and are ‘less likely to pass it on’.
Previous research has shown infants are not as likely to become infected by coronavirus than adults and, if they do, show milder symptoms, according to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Speaking this evening, Dr Harries said: ‘There are two groups that are at potential risk here, one are children.
‘We think that children probably have the same level of infection, we are just going through that data now with the ONS (Office of National Statistics) survey, but they don’t get as ill.
‘We rarely see children in hospital in proportion to the older population.
‘And for younger children as well, the evidence is still growing but there may be some evidence that they are less likely to pass it on.’
Research from January analysed data on the first 425 confirmed coronavirus cases in Wuhan, where the outbreak was first identified.
The study states: ‘It is notable that few of the early cases occurred in children, and almost half the 425 cases were in adults 60 years of age or older.
‘Although our case definition specified severe enough illness to require medical attention, which may vary according to the presence of co-existing conditions.’
The Deputy Chief Medical Officer also said young children will still be able to socially distance at school, ahead of a planned return for some year groups next month.
Dr Harries said plans include having small groups ‘where you increase the level of interaction a small amount, but it is contained’.
The Government expects children to be able to return to nurseries and childcare settings, and for reception, year one and year six pupils to be back in school, from June 1 at the earliest.
She said: ‘Although it is recognised that small children will run around and interact, we expect them to, but you can still distance. I know this is the plan.’
She also suggested that desks could be placed appropriate distances apart from one another to prevent long periods of close contact.
Dr Harries added: ‘A child rushing past another one in a normal area is probably not much of a risk.
‘But if they were sitting directly opposite to each other in a very small space, close together for a long amount of time – that might be more of a risk.
‘All of the interventions are designed to minimise those, while still allowing children to learn.’
The deputy chief medical officer was later asked about guidance which allows children to take their own lunch boxes to school, but not their own pencil cases.
She said: ‘I think the thing in a children’s environment is there are certain things that you can control pretty well, which might include pencil cases and things that you use routinely during education.
‘By doing that, schools can provide them and ensure that they are maintained clean.
‘The issue about lunch boxes is, they’re quite personal to the child eating the lunch, and I can almost guarantee that one child won’t want to eat the lunch of the one sitting hopefully two metres distance from them.’
She added that hygiene was important for both lunchboxes and pencil cases, and stressed the need to encourage children to wash their hands before and after eating.