Children under the age of 16 made up just one per cent of coronavirus cases during England’s coronavirus peak, a new study has found.
The authors said their research provides further evidence for the “limited role of children in the pandemic”.
The study, led by Public Health England (PHE), comes after Boris Johnson said getting all children back to school full-time next month is the “right thing for everybody”.
It also comes amid calls to boost Covid-19 testing and tracing to ensure a safe return.
The first case of the virus involving a child was confirmed on February 29.
Infections among children started to increase during the second week of March and peaked on April 11 before declining gradually – a similar trend seen in adults.
Overall 35,200 tests were performed on children under the age of 16 between January 1 and May 2.
There were 1,408 cases among children aged 15 – meaning around four per cent of all children tested had a positive result.
This compares to between 19.1 and 34.9 per cent among adults.
When considered among all age groups, children accounted for 1.1 per cent of total Covid-19 cases.
Just over half (53 per cent) were boys.
The highest number of positive cases in children were among children under the age of three months – but researchers said that this was just a reflection of the higher number of tests done among children in this age bracket.
They said that young infants are more likely to have more tests done when they are unwell and parents are more likely to take them to a doctor if they are younger.
During the study period there were eight deaths of children confirmed to have Covid-19.
In four cases “another cause (of death) was identified and Sars-CoV-2 was reported to be incidental or an indirect contributor to death”, the study’s authors wrote in the Archives of Disease in Childhood journal.
Among four children aged 10 to 15 who died, three had “multiple” other health conditions, they confirmed.
“There has been no increase in excess deaths in children aged 0–15 years until May 3 2020,” the researchers added.
They concluded: “The experience in England adds to the growing body of evidence on the limited role of children in the Covid-19 pandemic, with just over one per cent of confirmed cases occurring in children.
“Children accounted for a very small proportion of confirmed cases despite the large numbers of children tested.
“Sars-CoV-2 (the virus which causes Covid-19) positivity was low even in children with acute respiratory infection.
“Our findings provide further evidence against the role of children in infection and transmission of Sars-CoV-2.”
The authors of the current paper say that a “key” unanswered question remains whether children without symptoms might be contributing to community transmission of the virus.
But they point to other research which shows low infection rates among children and a separate study which found that among household infections children were “never the first to be infected or to be the source of infection in the household”.
The authors, which include experts from PHE, the University of Oxford, the Evelina children’s hospital, King’s College London and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, concluded: “England is currently nearing the end of the first peak of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Consistent with other countries, children account for a very small proportion of confirmed cases and have very low case-fatality rates.
“Despite the large number of children tested, only four per cent were positive for Sars-CoV-2.”
Lead author Dr Shamez Ladhani, from PHE, added: “It is still not clear why young children have such a low risk of infection compared to older children or adults.
"One theory is that, compared to adults, children have fewer ACE2 receptors which the virus can bind to in cells that line the respiratory tract.
“The way the immune system reacts to the virus is also likely to be different in children compared to adults.
“Whilst these numbers are reassuring for children, they include a long period of complete lockdown where children were less likely to have been exposed to the virus.”
And he cautioned: “We need to remain vigilant as the lockdown eases and children have increased contact with other children and adults in the coming weeks.
“In particular, we need more information about asymptomatic infections and silent transmission.”
PHE said that an analysis of virus cases in schools in England, and the preliminary results of its nationwide study of antibody prevalence in schools, will be published “in the coming weeks”.