Coronavirus rates 'are NOT going up among school-age children'

Coronavirus infection rates are NOT going up among school-age children, Professor Chris Whitty says in ‘important’ reminder to people worried about the virus spreading in the classroom

  • Professor Whitty said it was ‘important’ to remember rates lower in children 
  • Chief medical officer appeared in a televised briefing with Boris Johnson
  • He said school-age children are ‘one of the areas’ where the virus is not surging
  • It came amid a briefing that warned a national effort is needed to stop Covid-19 

Coronavirus cases are not spiralling out of control in schools, Professor Chris Whitty insisted tonight.

England’s Chief Medical Officer said rates are not going up for school-age children — under the age of 16. And in tonight’s Number 10 press conference, he claimed the trend was true ‘across the country’. 

But he warned this wasn’t the case for 17 to 21 year olds, where outbreaks are getting bigger ‘quite rapidly’.

The figures come after unions and scientists warned that the return of schools would cause an explosion in cases which, although children do not seem to get ill with Covid-19, could have put the health of staff and parents at risk.

England’s Chief Medical Officer said rates are not going up for school-age children — under the age of 16. And in tonight’s Number 10 press conference, he claimed the trend was true ‘across the country’

Justifying his claims about schools in a clear graph, Professor Whitty presented official data on test positivity rates for five different age groups. 

Test positivity reveals how many people who think they have Covid-19 actually do and is a measure that can be used to track infections without the influence of the total numbers of cases, which can fluctuate unreliably as more or fewer tests are carried out.

Professor Whitty’s data that he pointed to showed test positivity rates have soared to around 12.9 per cent among 19 to 21 year olds, doubling from 6 per cent at the start of the month. But he failed to offer any explanation as to why. 

Thousands of students flocked back to campus earlier this month, with a handful of universities, including Glasgow, Leeds and Manchester Metropolitan, forcing their students into lockdown because of outbreaks.

Official testing data shows that the number of cases is rising significantly faster in Scotland than it is in England.

Although there are fewer infections north of the border, the daily average number of cases is now almost 14 times higher than it was at the beginning of August, whereas England’s has increased five-fold in comparison.

The figures suggested Scotland outbreak is accelerating at a rate three times higher than England’s.

In the first week of August there were an average 38 cases per day diagnosed in Scotland. This rolling average has since surged 1,252 per cent to 514 yesterday.

In England, meanwhile, the average of 807 cases per day recorded in the first week of August has risen by a comparatively smaller 445 per cent up to September 28.

Today’s and yesterday’s data cannot be used for the comparison because the numbers are low as the positive tests are not all recorded on the day.

And Scotland’s cases surged to an all-time high of 806 on September 29 up from a low of just two positive cases on July 7.

Meanwhile England’s hit a ceiling of 7,143 yesterday, September 29, up from a low point of 398 on July 14.

England’s increase has been of around 1,700 per cent – some 17 times higher – while Scotland’s has boomed more than 400 times over.

The increase will be particularly worrying and disappointing for the nation, which came closer than any other part of the UK to wiping out the disease, with a month-long spell without a single death between July 17 and July 18.

Footage has emerged in recent days of booze-fuelled raves across the country in student accommodation, with revellers ignoring social distancing guidelines and the rule of six.

The data presented at tonight’s press conference — which saw Boris Johnson warn of a second lockdown unless the outbreak tails off — also showed the test positivity rate has jumped to around 9.6 per cent in 17 and 18 year olds. 

For comparison, it had stayed fairly stable at below 7.5 per cent in the first two weeks of September. 

But rates have barely changed among five to 10 year olds (1.5 per cent), 11 to 14 year olds (2.2 per cent) and 15 and 16 year olds (3.8 per cent).

Professor Whitty said: ‘It’s important to differentiate between different age bands between younger people, children and young adults …

‘In these groups [ages 5-10, 11-14 and 15-16] the rates are actually, currently, really not changing very much. These are school-age children, in the main. 

‘Whereas in older children and young adults – in those 17 up to 21 – and the same is true for other young adults, the rates are going quite rapidly up…

‘This is important to remember when people worry about schooling – school-age children are one of the areas where the rates are not going up and this is true across the country.’   

Separate Public Health England data — based on slightly older numbers — showed the percentage of young children returning a positive test result has actually fallen slightly since four weeks ago. 

While the positivity rate for children has remained stable it has surged in some other groups and is now higher than 15 per cent for men between the ages of 50 and 79 and over 13 per cent of women in their 60s.

This shows that many more older people who are thought to have coronavirus actually do, while only around one in 50 children who get tested because they have symptoms really have the illness.

But data from Public Health England clearly shows schools are to blame for a spike in coronavirus outbreaks since the start of September. 

And data shows 41.7 per cent of all recorded Covid-19 outbreaks in England during the week ending September 20 — 222 out of a total of 532 — were in ‘educational settings’.

Its proportion doubled in a week, after just 21.6 per cent of all recorded coronavirus clusters were down to schools and universities (110 out of 510).

For comparison, educational settings — which were shut over the summer — were responsible for only 0.6 per cent of the 157 outbreaks in the first week of August.

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