A health minister has warned a major Public Health England report into the transmission of coronavirus among school children is still a “work in progress”, as he urged caution about “reading too much” into the incomplete study.
Despite the education secretary Gavin Williamson insisting the study showed "little evidence that the virus is transmitted at school” in an official statement, Edward Argar claimed no-one had seen the final results of the yet-to-be-published work.
His remarks follow comments from professor Russell Viner, the president of the Royal College Paediatrics and Child Health, who said children are “very minor players” in the transmission of Covid-19 and reopening schools next month would “add little” to the reproduction rate of infection.
But reports also suggest the PHE study will claim that secondary school children are likely to transmit the disease as easily as adults and that researchers are disconcerted with the way the findings have been construed by top politicians. Mr Williamson made no distinction between secondary and primary pupils in his remarks.
Pressed on the transmission of the virus in relation to secondary pupils, Mr Argar told Sky News the PHE report was “still a work in progress”, claiming: “I haven’t seen the final results of that and I don’t think anyone else has.
"I think we should be cautious about reading too much into that work in progress – it's important work but it isn't complete yet.”
He added: "On the basis of the work that has been completed and those international comparators, we are confident that children and young people are much less at risk from this disease and from passing it on than other adults more broadly in the community.”
In his statement on Sunday, sent by the Department for Education (DfE), Mr Williamson said: “We have always been and will continue to be guided by the best scientific and medical advice.
"The latest research by Public Health England which is expected to be published later this year – one of the largest studies on the coronavirus in schools in the world – makes it clear there is little evidence that the virus is transmitted at school.”
Mr Argar also reiterated it was a “national priority” to get children back into schools next month for the start of the new academic year, adding: “Every day that children are out of school is a day lost to them, so we are going to get all pupils back to school from September."
"We do have the measures in place, including testing and tracing and including the sort of measures we've seen - local lockdowns if they were necessary, but at the moment schools are a low-infection, low-risk environment compared to say some of the local lockdown areas."
Speaking on Monday, Boris Johnson insisted schools are safe to re-open next month – just hours after the children’s commissioner, Anne Longfield, called for routine testing for pupils and teachers.
“I think it is very important that everybody works together to ensure schools are safe - and they are,” he said.
“They are Covid secure and I have been very impressed by the work that teachers have done, working with the unions, to make sure sure that all schools are safe to go back to in September”.