WHO chief says children are at 'very low risk' from coronavirus if schools are reopened

World Health Organization (WHO) Chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan attends a combined news conference following a two-day international conference on COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine research and a meeting to decide whether Ebola in DR Congo still constitutes health emergency of international concern on January 12, 2020 in Geneva. - The UN health agency on February 12 said it was "way too early" to say whether COVID-19 might have peaked or when it might end. It also said that it was extending for another three months its global emergency designation for the Ebola outbreak in DR Congo. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP) (Photo by FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images)
World Health Organization (WHO) chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan believes schools should reopen. (Getty)

The World Health Organization’s chief scientist believes children are at a 'very low risk' of being infected with coronavirus if schools reopen in the UK.

Speaking to the BBC's Andrew Marr Show, Dr Soumya Swaminathan said she believes "society has to restart" but that there will be a new normal.

Dr Swaminathan added that schools should be allowed to reopen providing adequate social distancing measures are in place.

“Children don’t seem to be getting severely ill from this infection,” she said, “Children are capable of getting the infection but there’s less data on how they are able to spread it.

Britain's Education Secretary Gavin Williamson arrives in Downing Street in central London on May 1, 2020. - Britain is "past the peak" of its coronavirus outbreak, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Thursday, despite recording another 674 deaths in the last 24 hours, taking the toll to 26,711. (Photo by Tolga AKMEN / AFP) (Photo by TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images)
Education secretary Gavin Williamson has defended the government's decision to send some children back to school on June 1. (Getty)

“What we have seen in countries where schools have remained open is that there have not been big outbreaks in schools.

“And where there have been it’s been associated with events where a lot of people gather, not in regular classrooms. And it’s often been associated with an adult who has had the infection.

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“So it does seem from what we know now that children are less capable of spreading it even if they get the infection and certainly are at very low risk from getting ill from the disease.”

Dr Swaminathan said that the WHO has been analysing data in countries where schools had already been reopened or had remained open throughout the crisis.

She said the data about infection rates “has been fairly reassuring” and said there are several measures teachers and governments can take to make sure schools are safe.

“In classrooms you can rearrange the tables and chairs so children have at least one metre between them,” she suggested.

It comes as the British Medical Association (BMA) said it was “completely aligned” with teachers’ unions that are concerned coronavirus infection rates are currently too high.

The move puts the BMA in opposition to the government which plans to welcome children in reception, Year 1 and Year 6 back on June 1.

The BMA said education unions were absolutely right to be cautious and evidence was unclear whether children carried Covid-19.

But education secretary Gavin Williamson said getting children back to school was “vital” for their educational development.

He said minimising contact and mixing is a "key element" of what needs to be done, adding: "That is why we have gone in this initial stage of much-reduced sizes down to a maximum of 15.

"We have looked all across Europe to see how this best works. We have seen some good examples in nations such as Denmark where it seems to have worked very well."

He added: "We are creating a protective bubble around them, reducing the amount of mixing and making sure that those small groups stay together almost like a family within a classroom."

He suggested that by cutting the amount of contact they have with other teachers and children, it is hoped that the risk of potential infection is "dramatically" reduced.

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