It is feared that the new strain of Covid is transmitted much more easily among children – potentially throwing plans to reopen schools after Christmas into chaos.
Devi Sridhar, professor and chairman of Global Public Health, Edinburgh Uni Med School, told Good Morning Britain that the species that hit Kent and London showed worrying signs.
She said the government should delay reopening schools in January until the full impact of the variant is properly assessed.
The old coronavirus was thought not to transmit and affect children as badly as among adults.
Professor Sridhar said: “This is a real hard nut to crack, because before that children were seen to be mostly unaffected by the virus and also not transmitted, especially by children under 12 years of age.
“We have not seen large outbreaks in primary schools or nurseries. This is true all over the world in countries where primary schools seem really safe and secondary schools moderately safe if your transfer rate is moderately low.
“But it seems that this new variant down to the south is better transmitted to children.
“It’s a big open question. So the gamble for governments is whether you are delaying the opening of schools to try to get information about what is happening with children or go further with the opening of schools and see what will happen.
“In Scotland, they are taking a precautionary approach – the opening of schools has been postponed for two weeks, in order to reduce the number during the holidays, but also to assess new evidence of this new variant and children and just be careful at this stage before we are fully open to schools.
“In England, I think that would be smart too. Something different is happening with the kids downstairs and we need to evaluate those patterns and work out what’s going on. “
The government should make a decision next week on when schools across England should reopen after the Christmas holidays.
Schools have already been told to teach children remotely for the first week of January, so teachers can train how to administer coronavirus tests.
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Now another six million people in England will be under level 4 limit – lock level – from Boxing Day.
The government is due to meet this week to decide when schools should reopen for all students. But that decision has been postponed by ongoing Brexit negotiations.
Yesterday, Community Secretary Robert Jenrick said that classes would continue in person in the “first few weeks of January.”
But there are fears that the two new mutated strains of coronavirus now found in the UK – which are spreading much faster than the original strains – are potentially more contagious to children. Professor Neil Ferguson told the Commons Committee on Science and Technology that a new strain of coronavirus is “everywhere”.
He said: “The critical question is what is happening in January and to what extent do we want to make public health measures more uniform across the country if the new variant is everywhere.”
Good morning Britain is on ITV on weekdays from 6am.