Scientists from the universities of Cambridge and Oxford have appealed for a “rational debate” on the “tiny” risk to children. They have also argued that if no vaccine is found soon enough, younger people should be allowed to carry on with their lives while people who are more at risk of coronavirus remain shielded.
It comes amid debates as to whether schoolchildren should be returning to classrooms soon as planned by the government.
The government has been scrutinised after Gavin Williamson, the Education Secretary, withdrew plans to have all primary school students return to school before the summer break.
He told the Commons that under a new strategy the Government would prefer that schools that “have the capacity” take in more students if they are able to before the summer holidays.
Downing Street caused further confusion by saying that in September, secondary schools should bring back “more pupils”, rather than all students.
Children are less likely to die from Covid-19 than be hit by lightning according to study
MPs and peers have questioned why the Government insists in reopening non-essential shops instead of allowing more children to go back to primary and secondary schools.
Cambridge University used latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures for a research showing that the risk to children from Covid-19 is remarkably minor.
The current death figure for five to 14 year-olds in England and Wales is just one in 3.5 million. For under-5s, it is one in 1.17 million.
Research undertaken by The Telegraph shows that children are far more at risk of being struck by lightning.
Gavin Williamson, the Education Secretary, withdrew plans to have all primary school students return to school before the summer break
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (Rospa), found that between 30 and 60 people are hit by lightning each year in Britain, representing a risk of between one in 2.21 million and one in 1.1 million annually.
Prof Sir David Spiegelhalter, chairman of the Winton Centre for Risk at Cambridge University, spoke at a briefing about the new ONS figures.
He suggested the danger to children was “tiny”, adding that previous generations had let children contract infections when they posed a lower risk.
“In school kids aged five to 14 it’s not only a tiny risk, it’s a tiny proportion of the normal risk,” said Sir David, who is a member of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage).
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“I remember the pre-vaccination era and I was sent round to play with friends with measles, mumps and chickenpox.
“I’m not suggesting this is the public health solution to his, but if no vaccines come along you might be thinking that.
“If, years in future, we don’t have a vaccine then we might have to think about how to protect those age groups most at risk while younger people can continue with their lives.
“I don’t think that will ever involve encouraging people to get infected.”
Lord Blunkett, who was Education secretary in Tony Blair’s government, blamed the Government of a “triumph of fear over ambition” as he appealed for a “national effort to give all children a face to face experience before the end of July”.
Research undertaken by The Telegraph shows that children are far more at risk of being struck by lightning
He told BBC Radio 4’s World At One: “To be honest, I think it is a lack of will, it is a lack of ‘can do’.
“It is a failure to do what we have already done with the health service and economy, which is to say there are challenges, there are real problems but we are going as a nation to seek to overcome them.
“Why is it that other countries, not just in Europe but across the world, can have the ambition to get their children, in all kinds of creative ways, back into school and we can’t?
“I can only conclude that the Government is losing the plot.”
He added: “I just know that we’ve got to do this. If we can set up the Nightingale hospitals in the time we did, why on Earth can’t we invest in the future of our children?”
Justine Greening, Education secretary from 2016 to 2018, argued that it was “untenable to still have no Government plan to get schools reopened”.