The reopening of schools in many EU countries has not led to significant increases in community transmission of Covid-19, according to a new report.
Child-to-child transmission of the disease in schools is uncommon and not the primary cause of infection in children attending class, particularly in preschools and primary schools, the report by the European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC) suggests.
Schools are unlikely to be more effective environments for propagating the virus than other work or leisure settings with similar densities of people, the report states.
“Decisions on control measures in schools and school closures/openings should be consistent with decisions on other physical distancing and public health response measures within the community,” it says.
With the Government planning a full reopening of Irish schools in the autumn, public health officials here have been waiting for the publication of this ECDC report before finalising their guidance to the education sector.
At present, it is not a requirement that student have to wear face-coverings when schools reopen though there have been calls for this to be made mandatory, as it is in retail environments.
The report says face-masks are “challenging” to implement in the school setting “as it is known that children will have a lower tolerance and/or may not be able to use the mask properly”.
Some EU states require children to wear masks, particularly those under 12, while Belgium and Czechia require teachers and other staff to do the same. Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands do not have this requirement for students or staff.
The report says less than 5 per cent of overall Covid-19 cases in the EU and the United Kingdom are among children, and these are much less likely than adults to be hospitalised or die.
Children are more likely to have a mild or asymptomatic infection, but this means the infection may go undetected or undiagnosed.
When they have symptoms, children shed virus in similar quantities to adults and can infect others in a similar way to adults. The report says it is unknown how infectious asymptomatic children are.
“While very few significant outbreaks of Covid-19 in schools have been documented, they do occur, and may be difficult to detect due to the relative lack of symptoms in children.”
In general, most countries report slightly lower seroprevalence in children than among adults, but these differences are “small and uncertain” and more specialised studies are needed, the ECDC says.
It acknowledges the evidence on the impact of school closures and reopening on community transmission levels is conflicting but adds that observational data from some EU countries, along with the results of contact tracing, suggest it is not associated with significant increases.
“Available evidence also indicates that closures of childcare and educational institutions are unlikely to be an effective single control measure for community transmission of Covid-19 and such closures would be unlikely to provide significant additional protection of children’s health, since most develop a very mild form of Covid-19, if any.”
However, decisions on control measures in schools and school closures/openings should be consistent with decisions on other physical distancing and public health response measures within the community.