Coronavirus: PHE medical director responds to claims grandparents can hug grandchildren safely

Ben and Isaac talk to their grandmother Sue through a window, as she and her husband Alan self-isolate due at their home in Knutsford, Cheshire. (Photo by Martin Rickett/PA Images via Getty Images)
Ben and Isaac talk to their grandmother Sue through a window, as she and her husband self-isolate. (Getty)

A Public Health England (PHE) medical director was unable to confirm if grandparents were safe to hug grandchildren after Swiss experts said youngsters posed no risk of coronavirus infection.

Professor John Newton, director of health improvement at PHE, said he could not verify the idea children under 10 were rarely infected with COVID-19.

Switzerland is to allow elderly grandparents to see their young grandchildren after its medical experts said youngsters did not have “receptors” to catch the infection.

Dr Daniel Koch, infectious diseases head at the country’s Federal Office of Public Health, said: “Children are very rarely infected and do not pass on the virus.

“That is why small children pose no risk to high-risk patients or grandparents.”

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Screen grab of Director Health Improvement at Publich Health England Professor John Newton during a media briefing in Downing Street, London, on coronavirus (COVID-19). (Photo by PA Video/PA Images via Getty Images)
PHE national testing coordinator Professor John Newton (Getty)

National testing co-ordinator Prof Newton, asked about it on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, said it was a question for Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer.

Prof Newton said: “One of the challenges we have is that coronavirus is a new infection and people are discovering things about it all the time. There’s a lot of uncertainty.

“We rely on advice from [scientific advisory group] Sage and our chief medical officer…

“I know Sage provides its best advice to the government and is constantly updating it.”

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Prof Whitty said on Monday that grandparents should only hug their grandchildren if they are not in one of the at-risk groups, which includes over-70s.

In response to a question from a member of the public who asked if she would be able to hug her grandchildren when lockdown is over, he said: “It depends on the situation that she finds herself in.

“If she is someone that has a significant medical problem in a way that means she would have to be shielding, and she's an older person, some grandparents are younger, some or older.”

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Scientists have questioned Switzerland’s approach and said there was “no consensus” that under-10s very rarely infected or passed on the virus.

Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health president Professor Russell Viner said: “We don’t think that it would be a good idea for children to hug their grandparents in the UK without more data.

“We think that children probably transmit COVID-19 less than adults, but we need to be absolutely sure and we would need to have a lot more data on that, particularly because elderly grandparents are in the vulnerable group.”

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