New Scientist Default Image

Jose Luis Pelaez Inc/Getty Images

What about children?

Should we be worried about the risk of children passing the coronavirus on to older or vulnerable relatives? The short answer is yes. “I think there is a risk of that,” says Katy Gaythorpe at Imperial College London.

In England, about 2 per cent of people aged between 11 and 24 have covid-19, according to the latest survey by the Office for National Statistics, compared with about 1 per cent in most other age groups, including younger children.

The reason is that schools and universities remained open during the latest lockdown in England, so students were more likely to mix with others and pass on the virus. The high number of infected young people could lead to a high number of older relatives being infected during family gatherings.

Advertisement


“If grandparents and vulnerable people mix with other people that have been mixing in the run-up to Christmas, such as schoolchildren, this inevitably increases risk of infection,” says Duncan Robertson at Loughborough University, UK.

Teaching unions have called for schools to close a week early, and a petition for this has gathered more than 100,000 signatures, but the UK government says schools will stay open.

Most children have only mild symptoms if infected, and about 21 per cent remain asymptomatic, according to a meta-analysis by Gaythorpe’s team. Overall, it seems that children – particularly younger ones – might be slightly less susceptible to the coronavirus than adults, and slightly less likely to infect others, but the evidence is mixed.

“If we are working towards a clear objective of minimising deaths, then it would make sense to close schools around two weeks before Christmas bubbles are formed,” says Robertson. “But doing this could have an unintended consequence of encouraging more mixing.”

More on these topics: