Oxford Professor calls for study of coronavirus spread in schools

Carl Heneghan is urging the Government to investigate transmission in case the virus reoccurs.

The Government should not miss a "huge opportunity" to study how coronavirus is transmitted in schools so we do not have to "suppress everything" in future, an Oxford University expert has said.

Carl Heneghan, professor of evidence-based medicine at Oxford, said that if he was in government, he would be organising studies on how Covid-19 spreads in schools across different regions, and in urban and rural settings.

In some areas where transmission was lower, studies could have staged schools going back and the data could then be used "to reassure us going forward", he said.

And strategies could be varied and testing targeted in some locations which could be used as "satellite centres to understand transmission", Prof Heneghan said.

He added: "These (studies) are a huge opportunity right now to understand what works and what doesn't.

"My one fear is that we miss this opportunity, and we come back in six months' time and we go 'we need to understand this data', and we haven't got it to say 'what effect does class size for instance have, does that increase the risk of transmission among children and teachers?'

"Now, I can't say how important it is we do these studies right now.

"Because if it's going to reoccur and it reoccurs next winter, and we haven't learned anything about transmission, we're going to end up in the same approach where we have to suppress everything, as opposed to learn which bits of the ecosystem in the environment actually do make a difference."

Prof Heneghan said experts are struggling to say with confidence that transmission is low in schools because of the lack of studies.

It comes as another professor criticised a paper which found "no significant difference" between viral loads of adults and children.

The pre-print, from academics in Berlin and Cambridge, said "children may be as infectious as adults" and consequently cautioned against an unlimited reopening of schools.

Sir David Spiegelhalter, chairman of the Winton Centre for Risk and Evidence Communication at the University of Cambridge, said he believes the authors reached a "totally wrong conclusion" and is calling for the paper to be withdrawn.

He added: "Many other statisticians have criticised this paper but essentially their statistical analysis is inappropriate and their conclusions unjustified

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