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UK epidemiologist warns ‘it’s very hard to contain transmission in schools’ ahead of students’ return

The comments come as four million Australian school students prepare to return to classrooms over the next two weeks.

Students across Victoria, Northern Territory and Western Australia are today rolling up to the school gates, with the majority of NSW schools back tomorrow.

All remaining states and territories will see students back in classrooms by February 9.

Epping Boys High School HSC students after the first English exam.  Pictured is Lachintha Kankanamage 9th November 2021 Photo: Steven Siewert
Many schools across the UK have reintroduced the wearing of face masks. (Steven Siewert)

However, students in Britain returned to school on January 6 and in a fortnight the number of coronavirus-positive children more than doubled to 321,000.

The rate of infection has prompted many schools to reintroduce measures such as mask wearing in the classroom.

Clinical epidemiologist and senior lecturer at the Queen Mary University of London, Dr Deepti Gurdasan, taken a similar pattern could be seen in Australia if adequate measure are not early.

“In Australia right now, particularly the east coast, transmission is very high. With such high infection rates, it is very hard to contain transmission in schools,” she said.

Dr Deepti Gurdasani said one in eight children are being infected in the UK.
Dr Deepti Gurdasani said one in eight children are being infected in the UK. (Today)

“If you don’t have things like masks, adequate ventilation or even contact tracing in schools, then what you see is huge outbreaks which is what we’re seeing in the UK right now.”

In addition to maintaining high vaccination rates, Dr Gurdasan said state governments should be supplying high-grade masks to schools, improving air purification methods and have adequate contract tracing in place to prevent the spread.

“No one measure is going to be adequate to keep this under control,” she said.

“All those things together are needed along with rapid testing regularly for children.”

School returns on October 25 for some students in NSW after a five month lockdown.
Four million Australian school students will return to classrooms over the next two weeks. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Federal Government insists school return is ‘safe’

Acting Minister for Education and Youth Stuart Roberts said a nationally consistent approach to managing COVID-19 in schools will help to introduce students back into the classroom.

“We want to ensure kids can return and stay safely at school from day one, term one this year and parents can rely on early childhood education centers staying open,” Mr Robert said.

“Importantly, the health advice tells us that it is safe for children, students and workers to be back and to stay back, and like all parents, I’m looking forward to my children getting back into their school’s classroom.”

Acting Minister for Education and Youth Stuart Roberts said it’s safe for students and workers to go back to school. (A Current Affair)

State and Territory governments are releasing separate COVID-Safe plans for schools in their respective jurisdictions.

In New South Wales rapid antigen testing has been flagged as a key measure for students’ safe return.

Both students and teachers will be tested twice weekly; a measure also being recommended in Victoria.

In NSW all primary and secondary school staff are required to wear surgical masks indoors.

In Victoria face masks are highly recommended for those up to grade 2s. They must be worn indoors by year 3s and up.

Coles Eastgardens

How Australia faced the emergence of the Omicron variant

Child hospitalisations surge in UK

In the UK children hospitalisations are increasing, with a number of children developing long-COVID; a condition where symptoms linger post-infection.

“The hospitalisations are the highest they’ve ever been in children,” Dr Gurdasan said, explaining heath authorities are seeing about 900 hospitalisations per week.

In the fortnight after UK schools returned the number of COVID-19 positive children more than doubled to 321,000. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

“(It’s) very, very high, particularly in the under-5s, which we’ve seen in many countries are being affected more with the Omicron variant.

The clinical epidemiologist went on to say Britain has a lower vaccination rate than Australia.

She explained only 10 per cent of 12 to 15-year-olds there have received two doses and they’re not offering vaccines to 5 to 11-year-olds yet.

Child vaccine
Emily Hyslop (8) gets her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccination at Priceline Pharmacy Southlands on Jan 10, 2022. (Flavio Brancaleone)

“The number of children vaccinated is so low (in the UK), we can’t make those comparisons,” she said.

“If we look at the US, the vast majority of children who get admitted are unvaccinated.”

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