A leading scientist behind the modelling of the spread of the coronavirus has said that shutting schools would reduce the transmission of the disease, as pressure grows on the UK government to introduce closures.
Prof Neil Ferguson, of Imperial College London and director of the MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis, said that while it was not fully understood whether children transmitted the virus in the same way as other illnesses, school closures was a measure that could have an effect.
Speaking to the BBC Radio 4 Today programme on Tuesday, Ferguson said: “From a purely epidemiological perspective we think, with a lot of uncertainty, that closing schools and universities would further reduce transmission.
“I have to say we don’t fully understand whether children are transmitting this virus in the same way they would transmit other viruses but assuming that, it would have an impact.”
There have been calls for school closures throughout the coronavirus outbreak, with the Scottish first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, saying they would be kept under daily review.
Italy, France and Germany have all shut their schools.
Ferguson said: “It would also have other negative impacts, particularly on potentially health system capacity – a lot of nurses, a lot of doctors have school-age children.Quick guide
“What is currently happening is there is a very thorough review of what a likely impact of school closure would be – both positive, in terms of reducing the epidemic, but also negative.
“As the prime minister made clear yesterday, school closure hasn’t been ruled out and may be necessary in coming weeks.”
The research released by Imperial College’s Covid-19 response team on Monday was behind the government’s strategy change for more stringent measures, including social distancing, to try to suppress the illness. Without further restrictions the death toll could be 250,000, it said.
The deputy chief medical officer for England, Jonathan Van-Tam, also kept the option of school closures on the table.
He said: “It is possible that we may have to look at other measures such as school closures but for the time being we are keeping this under review and as Prof Ferguson has said this is the subject of intense scrutiny within the scientific government community at the moment.”
Asked about school closures having the potential to further reduce transmission, he said: “Potentially so.”
“We need to bear in mind school closures would have some negative consequences too in terms of the workforce, in terms of where children might congregate out of school and whether they might be looked after by grandparents who we are asking to social distance – the over-70s.