Scientists Warn Covid Set to Grow Exponentially in U.K. Schools

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The U.K. government’s scientific advisers said Covid-19 cases are likely to rise exponentially among children when schools resume next month after the summer holidays.

Most U.K. children haven’t been vaccinated against coronavirus and it would be “sensible” for the government to plan for “high prevalence” in schools by the end of September, according to a document dated Aug. 11 that was released on Friday by the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies.

The warning highlights the tightrope Prime Minister Boris Johnson has to walk as he tries to steer the country back to normality after a year and a half of a pandemic which has killed more than 130,000 people in the U.K. and sent the economy crashing into its worst recession in three centuries.

Most restrictions except those on international travel have been dropped, and Johnson has said he wants the emergence from lockdown to be irreversible.

The scientists said that prior to the summer holidays, the proportion of positive coronavirus tests in schools rose to about 1.5% at the end of July from about 0.1% in May.

They also estimated that the rate of acquired immunity from contracting the virus was about 20% of children in mid-May. To model scenarios for when schools return, they assumed the rate has risen to a range of 40-70%.

‘Exponential Increase’

“It is highly likely that exponential increases will be seen in school-attending age groups after schools open,” the scientists wrote in the document

Even though the bulk of U.K. adults have now been vaccinated, cases remain high, with more than 38,000 new positives registered yesterday, and almost 240,000 in the past week. 

Children are the people least protected against the virus in the U.K., because vaccinations have only recently been authorized for 16 to 17-year olds, while 12 to 15-year-olds can only get a vaccination if they have certain health conditions or live with someone who is immuno-compromised. 

Vaccination will “have made almost no difference” to children over the summer, the scientists said. They also said the role of schools in driving Covid transmission in the wider community “remains uncertain.” 

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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