27 Apr 2020

'School is as safe as it's ever been' - infectious disease expert

5:04 pm on 27 April 2020

Parents are being reassured that it is as safe as it has ever been to send children back to school.

Young students running through hallway of school.

Photo: 123RF

Teachers are preparing for the return of some students this week. Only students up to year 10 whose parents have to resume work in level 3 ot those that really need to be in school can attend. Others must continue distance learning.

University of Otago infectious disease expert and paediatrician Tony Walls said Covid-19 wasn't circulating in the community and there were also fewer viruses and bacteria present than usual.

He said overseas evidence showed that while children could be infected with Covid-19, they seldom became sick enough to need to go to hospital.

Walls said the success of lockdown measures and scientific evidence from overseas meant parents should feel comfortable about sending their children back to school.

"A question many parents will be asking themselves is: 'How safe is it to send children to school?' The answer is sending your children to school is as safe as it's ever been," Walls said.

University of Otago professor Philip Hill said there were countries that successfully controlled the spread of the virus while allowing children to attend school.

He said a cross-sectional survey of 700 participants in Stockholm, Sweden, found only 2.5 percent of children were positive.

"It just doesn't make sense to say this virus spreads widely in schools when there have been very few children affected in other countries where schools have been open. When children do get Covid-19 it is usually acquired from an infected adult family member,'' Hill said.

He said it was different to influenza, in that children were the main carriers of infection, other than the elderly, to be sick enough to be hospitalised.

"Nobody can say your child is not going to get an infection if you send them to school. Families around the country deal with this every winter with influenza and many other viral infections.

"The best protection for everyone in a school is to keep children and adults away from school if they are unwell, and to encourage everyone to wash their hands regularly during the day. Vaccinating your child against influenza every year is a good idea."

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