Director of Public Health, Blackburn with Darwen Council.

THE government has indicated that it would like to resume some schools classes across the country from June 1 as part of the lockdown lifting.

The scientific advisory committee (SAGE) is to publish the technical evidence behind this proposal before the end of May.

The teachers' unions are cautious and the British Medical Association are supporting the schoolteachers’ unions suggesting that the clinical evidence of the risks involved are currently far from clear.

The evidence so far seems to suggest that children are at a very low risk of hospitalisation and death from Covid-19. Although their risk of infection appears similar to the general population, it seems their immune systems manage the viral infection better than adults and so the amount of virus they transmit whilst infected may be small.

There is growing evidence however that they may get ‘atypical symptoms’ and so, if infected they may not know, parents may not report their infectious state or isolate them. Many may return them to school with the risk of infecting others.

We also do not yet fully understand the implications of the low infectious rate of children with Covid-19. There might it be a risk for BAME children infected at school and then returning to multi-generational households with shielded older grandparents for instance.

Schools are part of a wider community who will have to manage the risk consequences if the virus spreads and BAME communities have double the risk of hospitalisation with the virus.

The government said it would lift lockdown if its five tests were met – but two tests are not yet met. Test Four (adequate PPE and testing) is partially met but the national testing capacity is not yet high enough to test the numbers that would be needed to provide schools with assurance of their own school specific infection rates.

Test Five (not creating a risk of a second wave) cannot be assured as we do not yet know the R value at local authority level. We do not yet even have all the data from the Pillar Two testing for our local population (that’s for key workers and others).

The key problem is that if a schools rate of Covid-19 infections doubled in the first two weeks of return on June 1 we would simply have no way of knowing - and so could not act quickly to prevent an outbreak spreading across the wider community.

The system of ‘Test, Track, Trace and Isolate’ cannot yet give us the information we need to prudently assess and manage the risks of a school return on June 1.

It may do so soon – but until it does many people will feel a period of watchful waiting may be the best approach to take on this issue.