Coronavirus in Scotland: Edinburgh University scientist says latest data points to ‘earlier’ lifting of lockdown

A leading British scientist has said the latest data points to an “earlier unlocking” of coronavirus restrictions, adding that he would not expect a surge in new cases when schools reopened.

Wednesday, 17th February 2021, 12:00 pm
Updated Wednesday, 17th February 2021, 12:09 pm

Speaking at the Science and Technology Committee on Wednesday, Professor Mark Woolhouse, of Edinburgh University, said: “Children themselves are at very low risk from this infection.

“We’ve also got good evidence now that teachers and other school staff are not at any elevated risk from Covid-19 compared with other working professions.

“So, the discussion is all about the contribution that schools make to the R number.

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“There is a case, certainly for children under 16 up to 15, that having them in school does not make such a big contribution to the R number that we couldn’t consider lifting it in the reasonably near future.

“I completely agree that we don’t want to be overly focused on dates, not at all. We want to be focused on data. But the point I’d make about that is the data are going really well.

“The vaccination rollout is, I think, exceeding most people’s expectations, it’s going very well.”

He added: “The transmission blocking potential is key. But so, of course, is its actual ability to protect against death and disease, and to keep people out of hospital, and those numbers are looking really good.

Professor Mark Woolhouse, professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh, said he would not expect a surge in cases when schools reopened.
Professor Mark Woolhouse, professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh, said he would not expect a surge in cases when schools reopened.

“My conclusion from that is if you’re driven by the data and not by dates, right now, you should be looking at earlier unlocking.”

Prof Woolhouse, who feeds in to Sage sub-group Spi-M, went on to say he would not expect a surge in cases when schools reopened.

“One of the stated reasons for keeping schools closed was to avoid some surge in cases when they open – that’s never happened across western Europe,” he told the Science and Technology Committee.

“There was a different prediction when the universities went back – there a surge in cases was expected and we saw a surge in cases.

“We know what a surge in cases looks like – we saw it in September and October in the universities, we’ve never seen that in the schools, and I don’t expect to.

“We do have to make a distinction, though, there is an issue about the oldest children who are more adult-like in the biology of the virus infection within them.

“So, what countries, other countries in Europe, have done – Sweden is a good example – is to keep their schools open to children up to 15 years old.

“Older children are more of a challenge, but for many of the children I think the contribution that they’re making to the cause of this epidemic has been proven by the data not to be that great.”

He said that schools do not appear to drive the epidemic but “reflect the epidemic around them”.

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