Too many children are being tested for coronavirus because of their "understandable" but "misplaced" fear of school outbreaks, according to a leading pediatrician.
Professor Russell Viner of University College London called for schools to remain completely open in the face of a second wave and stop their “flip-flopping” between closings and openings that “affect” youth education.
He spoke after his recently published study found that people under the age of 20 were 44 percent less likely than adults to be infected with the virus.
This means, he argues, schools have a lower risk of virus outbreaks. Previous research has also revealed that the risk of children dying from the disease is well below one percent, compared with a rate of more than 10 percent for those over 65.
Government data shows that around 626,500 teenagers were swabbed between May 28 and the end of August, almost twice as many as 70 to 79 year olds (364,000) and those over 80 (350,000).
The UK's world-leading testing system has fluctuated from crisis to crisis over the past few weeks as demand for swabs spiked through the roof, as children returned to the classroom and parents returned to their offices.
The NHS warned this morning that the beleaguered system "is not up to the task" of handling an expected further surge in demand over the winter.
The government is currently doing around 245,000 tests a day, but Boris Johnson has promised to increase that number to 500,000 by the end of October. Industry leaders have already warned that they are "a few weeks" behind this deadline due to delays in obtaining vital equipment. Officials are light years away from Operation Moonshot's goal of 10 million tests a day.
Professor Russell Viner of University College London said schools should stop flipping between opening and closing because of the lower risk to children
A study found that children get 40 percent less of the virus than adults (stock)
Hundreds of students have been sent home due to Covid-19 outbreaks in schools
Dozens of schools across England and Wales have reported cases of the virus, which resulted in staff and children being sent home.
The Department of Education announced last week that four percent of Britain's 30,000 state schools were not fully open due to coronavirus outbreaks. This compared to one percent seven days ago.
A school Boris Johnson attended on August 26 – Castle Rock High School in Coalville, Leicestershire – was one of many to put a number of students "precautionary" into self-isolation after a staff member tested positive.
During his visit, Mr. Johnson said that "still not going to school" is the greatest risk to children.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said it was "impossible" to eliminate the risks of transmission in the school or the wider community.
He added, "It is therefore likely that the disruption will continue over the coming weeks and months."
Professor Viner warned The Guardian that Britain was "overly cautious" in testing so many children.
"Currently, the testing capacity is clearly limited," he said.
& # 39; We have to think, "Are we testing too many children?" because of our understandable, but likely unscientific and misguided concerns about children being infected in schools. & # 39;
He added, “We need to stop the flip-flops of schools that open and close and realize that we are probably testing too many children.
"In the event of seemingly inevitable future waves of Covid-19, there will likely be further pressure to close schools."
The Department of Education announced last week that four percent of state schools are "not fully open" due to coronavirus outbreaks, which saw whole year groups sent home after a student in them tested positive for the virus.
This compared to one percent seven days ago. There were 20 schools in the country that were completely closed last week.
Professor Viner's study, published last Friday in the leading medical journal JAMA Pediatrics, gathered data from studies of 41,640 children and adolescents around the world up to the age of 20.
It found that elementary school children had the lowest infection rates, while the oldest group, ages 17 or 18-20, had infection rates similar to adults.
He stressed that the study was focused on children's ability to catch just the virus. Your ability to spread it will be the subject of a separate study. Other studies have shown that children are just as likely to catch Covid-19 – but have few symptoms.
Children under the age of 12 were 60 percent less likely to contract Covid-19 compared to adults if someone was already infected in their home.
The paper states: “There is weak evidence that children and adolescents play a smaller role than adults in the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 at the population level. This study does not provide information on infectivity in children. & # 39;
NHS providers warned this morning that the UK's testing system was not up to the task, stating that its capacity must quadruple in three months, with testing times changing dramatically to meet demand over the winter.
Chris Hopson, executive director of NHS Providers, said: & # 39; If NHS Test and Trace is under pressure now, there will likely be more pressure this winter.
“We all understandably want confirmation of a test when we have a cold, flu, or a bug with coronavirus-like symptoms.
Matt Hancock's new coronavirus tracing app, which the Minister of Health has called a great success, was hit by several bugs and bugs this weekend that have confused users
As a result, & # 39; NHS Test and Trace has an important task ahead of expanding capacity, increasing the number of test sites, increasing the number of tests processed for the next day, and expanding the ability to deal with local outbreaks.
"There are plans at the highest level, but we need more details and the NHS trusts we represent want to know how they can contribute."
Mr Hopson said Test and Trace has become "as important a public service as treating heart attacks, catching criminals and fighting fires".
He told BBC Breakfast that the country "would probably need four times as many tests over the winter as we currently have".
In response to the government's inability to keep up with demand, Matt Hancock released a priority list for coronavirus testing last week.
It puts those in acute clinical care or those who are supposed to receive it at the forefront, followed by nursing home workers and residents, as well as NHS staff, including general practitioners and pharmacists.
Fourth, there are those involved in outbreak management and surveillance studies; fifth, there are teachers, and lastly, the general public.
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