Senior Conservative MP says ‘no evidence’ new COVID variant has greater impact on children
Education committee chair Robert Halfon calls for Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance to make statement
It comes amid uncertainty over reopening of schools following Christmas holidays
A senior Conservative MP has said there is no evidence the new coronavirus variant has a greater impact on children.
Robert Halfon, chair of the House of Commons education committee, said “we don’t know for sure” until the government’s top two COVID-19 advisers – Prof Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance – have their say.
It follows initial reports the new COVID variant could more easily infect children than the original strain.
And Halfon’s call for evidence on Tuesday came as pressure mounted on Boris Johnson to further delay the reopening of secondary schools amid concerns about their contribution to rising cases.
Watch: Teaching union demands further action on school reopening
Speaking to Good Morning Britain, Halfon said: “We haven’t had the advice from the chief medical officer [Prof Whitty] and the chief science officer [Sir Patrick], previously they were saying time and time again that the risks to COVID for children were low and that there were marginal transmission rates.
“I asked a very senior Public Health England official only just before Christmas whether or not this new variant made a difference, and he said there was no evidence for that.
“So what we need to do is hear from the chief medical officer and chief science officer what exactly is the scientific evidence.
“Because at the moment we’ve had a few media reports, but we don’t know for sure.”
Halfon said the government should “weigh up” the risks of COVID to children, compared to the risk closing schools poses to their wellbeing.
He said some pupils are already 15 months behind in their education due to previous school closures, while eating disorders have “gone up significantly” and some pupils are being “exposed to online harm”.
The new variant is said to be up to 70% more transmissible. On Monday, the government announced a record daily number of lab-confirmed infections: 41,385.
Earlier this month, Downing Street said exam-year students would go back to school as normal after the Christmas holidays, while the majority of secondary school pupils would start the term online to allow headteachers to roll out mass testing of children and staff.
One teaching union, the National Education Union, has called for schools and colleges to remain closed for at least the first two weeks of January.
According to Politico, members of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) also told ministers that schools reopening could cause infections to spiral.
On Monday, government ministers held a meeting about the reopening of schools. No decision was made.
Watch: What is long COVID?