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Covid-19: Researchers question policy of closing schools after finding under 20s have low susceptibility to virus

BMJ 2020; 369 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.m2439 (Published 17 June 2020) Cite this as: BMJ 2020;369:m2439

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Let's get back to basics: it's time to put children's needs ahead of our own

Dear Editor

You report that modelling of continued school-closures in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic shows a modest impact on COVID-19 transmission [1]. Together with modelling we need firm data in a form that everyone - the public and professionals alike - can understand.

We compiled case and mortality data for children (0-14 years in eight countries and 0-19 years in the US), and compared this to mortality from all-causes and other causes that society finds acceptable, and that do not justify school closure, such as influenza and road traffic collision [2]. The results were surprising. COVID-19 is fortunately not a dangerous disease for children at least in comparison to other important causes. We estimate that COVID-19 was responsible for 0.333% of deaths in children through May 2020 (we are updating these data monthly, based on a letter to the BMJ[3] at www.tinyurl.com/child-covid).

We next asked the question, are children responsible for asymptomatic spread of the disease? Work from the Don’t Forget the Bubbles/NHS-England/Royal College of Paediatrics & Child Health evidence-review[4] suggests that this is not the case. The question then is - why have we in the United Kingdom continued to deny education, socialisation, fun, play and enjoyment to our children whilst other countries have ‘unlocked’?

Debate online using Twitter (@sunilbhop), and on the BBC (see https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000jyhy/newsnight-09062020) suggests that there is genuinely-held concern about the safety of teachers and other school staff. We agree – medically vulnerable or elderly should be kept shielded within or outside school property and that all staff have a right to a workplace that manages risk appropriately.

Schools were closed to protect the wider community from transmission of COVID-19. But, why are educational establishments being held to a higher standard than clothes shops, theme-parks, or pubs which are to shortly reopen? It is possible that children’s needs as autonomous persons with their own rights were overlooked. Children do not belong to either their parents or to society [5] and it is time to reassert their needs and rights. Many countries around the world have now reopened schools, some with no social distancing whatsoever. We watch case numbers, hospitalisation rates and mortality from these countries with great interest, alongside lessons emerging from test-trace-isolate systems which will be crucial for the duration of the pandemic.

Our children’s future is dependent on their social and educational development and is too important to be set against the needs of adults. It is time to go back to basics: we must put children’s needs ahead of our own.

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References

1 Torjesen I. Covid-19: Researchers question policy of closing schools after finding under 20s have low susceptibility to virus. BMJ 2020;369. doi:10.1136/bmj.m2439
2 Bhopal S, Bagaria J, Bhopal R. Children’s mortality from COVID-19 compared with all-deaths and other relevant causes of death: epidemiological information for decision-making by parents, teachers, clinicians and policymakers. Public Health 2020;185:19–20. doi:10.1016/j.puhe.2020.05.047
3 Bhopal S, Bagaria J, Bhopal R. Risks to children during the pandemic: some essential epidemiology for parents, clinicians and policymakers. BMJ 2020;369:m2290.
4 Boast A, Munro A, Goldstein H. An evidence summary of Paediatric COVID-19 literature. DFTB Published Online First: 3 April 2020. doi:10.31440/DFTB.24063
5 OHCHR | Convention on the Rights of the Child. https://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/crc.aspx (accessed 18 Jun 2020).

Competing interests: No competing interests

18 June 2020
Sunil S Bhopal
NIHR Academic Clinical Lecturer in Population Health Paediatrics
Jay Bagaria, Independent Public Health Practitioner, Edinburgh; Raj Bhopal, Emeritus Professor of Public Health, Usher Institute, University of Edinburgh
Population Health Sciences Institute, Newcastle University
Badilley Clark Building, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE2 4BN