Leicester City Council Are Wrong to State that “children are very unlikely” to Get Covid-19

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Despite getting attacked in the Tory tabloid rags, the Education Solidarity Network organised a national day of action last Friday (August 21) as part of an ongoing campaign demanding the safe reopening of schools in England. Funnily the most heinous statement the tabloid press could marshal against the socialist grouping was something said by Socialist Alternative member James Kerr who had explained:

“We have already lost colleagues to the virus and will lose more if there is not action. It’s not the Victorian era anymore. Every worker should be able to go to work in the knowledge that they will return alive and well.”

Supporters of the Education Solidarity Network are however concerned about a lot more than stopping the Tories taking us back in time. In fact the leaflet distributed at the protest in Leicester, which was organised by the locally-based “Safety First” campaign, demanded that schools must open in a way that “avoid[s] a further acceleration of infection within our communities”. And some of the very reasonable demands listed on the Network’s leaflet included that…

  • “Schools should reopen at the start of term with no classes larger that 15 school students.”
  • “Wider opening should only be considered when the evidence of the effects of school opening on infection rates confirms that it is safe to do so.”
  • “Staff and school students over the age of 11 should wear face coverings while indoors.”
  • “There must be no fines on those who opt for their children to learn at home.”
  • “Where local infection rates exceed the internationally recognised threshold of 50 new cases per 100,000 over seven days, schools should close to all but priority children.”
  • “Weekly onsite testing of staff to be provided, and for children whose parents request it too.”

Demonstrating that such demands are actually completely reasonable the government is already in the process of backtracking on the wearing of face coverings. But even on national day of action itself the Leicester protest had the effect of encouraging the education lead at our city council to make a statement that represented a significant first victory for the “Safety First” campaign. Thus in an online interview carried out with Leicester Mercury reporter (Dan Martin) the city council’s strategic director of education and social care Martin Samuels responded to a question asked by a member of the public which asked “How does it work if you are shielding but have to take child to school and pick them up?” In response Samuels stated:

“If you are shielding you shouldn’t be taking your child to school. Ideally if the child can take themselves to school or somebody else can take them, then that is what they should do. If you are shielding you shouldn’t take them. And if it is impossible for anyone else to take the child or the child isn’t able to take themselves to school then that is a completely legitimate reason for them not attending school. The person who is shielding shouldn’t be putting themselves at risk.

“In addition to that if a child is living in a household with someone who is shielding then they should only go to school if they can then socially distance there. I think realistically it is going to be quite tricky for children who are living with someone who is still shielding for them to go to school; we absolutely understand that. Schools are being set up so they can provide the remote learning experience and there is no question of any kind of enforcement action being taken. That is completely reasonable for why that should be the case.”

This is a good start, but worried parents would be more reassured if the Council simply came out with a categorical statement that they will refuse to fine parents who keep their children away from school. We will wait to see if Labour leader Sir Peter Soulsby ever makes such a reasonable commitment. I suspect not.

Tragically, but not unexpectantly, Samuels didn’t help improve communication with concerned parents when he went on to repeat the government’s misinformed covid talking points. He stated:

“There has not been a single child in Leicester who has died from the virus. There have been only a very, very small number who have had to be admitted to hospital from the virus. Actually, the numbers, I was looking at the numbers today, there are something like 80,000 children across the city, a couple of hundred of them have had recorded infections. So really these are very small numbers indeed and the evidence suggests that children are very unlikely to get the virus and if they do they tend not to get it very badly.”

He starts with the obvious truism when he says that children are not dying because of Covid-19, but what we also know is that the family members of children do die because of the virus. Moreover, Samuels is wrong to assert that only a couple of hundred children have been infected in our city. The only reason such low numbers have been recorded is because generally children are not being tested, which is partly because when they do get infected they do not present with symptoms. This fact, running contrary to Samuels’ assertion, was made clear on May 14 when the government’s Office for National Statistics stated: “There is no evidence suggesting age has an impact on the likelihood of an individual having COVID-19.” (The age categories that showed no statistical difference in infection rates were between 2-19 year olds, 20-49 year olds, 50-69 year olds, and those over 70 years old.)

Samuels repeats the distortion about children not getting infected later in the same interview when he says:

“I think it is important to repeat that the evidence we have been looking at is that children are much less likely than adults to pick up the virus in the first place, and if they do pick up the virus they are much less likely to experience significant symptoms from it, and they are much less likely to be infectious to others than are adults.”

The only point that is definitely true in this statement is that children are much less likely to experience significant symptoms from Covid-19. But to be clear, the scientific evidence regarding how infectious children are still remains highly disputed. Either way Samuels doubles down on his own misunderstanding of Covid-19 when he says:

“We are actually much less concerned about the risk of infection to the children because our experience is that doesn’t happen and that is born out elsewhere. So when the schools were open we didn’t have a single case where we could find any evidence of child-to-child transmission, and we found only a couple of cases where we thought a teacher might have passed it on to a pupil. But essentially, as far as we can tell, when the schools were open earlier, actually the cases that we were finding in schools, and there weren’t many, the few cases we were finding in schools, these were people who had picked up the infection in the community, and then we spotted them in school.”

Samuels repeats himself again adding:

“We start from the position that the evidence that we’ve got internationally and from elsewhere in the country is that children are pretty unlikely to catch the virus, even if they are exposed to it, they are pretty unlikely to catch it. If they do catch it, they are pretty unlikely to get ill from it, and they are pretty unlikely to be infectious.”

Again, the best evidence suggests that this is simply not true. If you don’t trust me then why not read the government’s official “Statement from the UK Chief Medical Officers on schools and childcare reopening” (August 23) which points out that:

“There is reasonable, but not yet conclusive, evidence that primary school age children have a significantly lower rate of infection than adults (they are less likely to catch it).

“Evidence that older children and teenagers are at lower risk of catching COVID-19 is mixed. They are either less likely to catch COVID-19 than adults or have the same risk as adults.”

This later point is key, as the government believes it is possible that “older children and teenagers” may be just as likely to catch Covid-19 as adults. The critical difference however is that when children contract Covid-19 they tend not to present symptoms and so are able to pass it to family members without ever realising they were ever infected.

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Photo from https://www.leicestermercury.co.uk/news/leicester-news/coronavirus-protest-held-leicester-children-4446951

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NOTES

Here is an excellent broadcast which features interviews with education activists from around the country and features Leicester “Safety First” organiser Lindsey Morgan: https://www.facebook.com/educationsolidaritynetwork/posts/325787748772037?__cft__%5B0%5D=AZWuY5bWClD7e0XlfhS0E7JINyhuWrnVVn8oqBOsvBcXif8KZnlGgfRrH_EHlTU_6qQ6whxG_tBFHN02o_pq2KNHJc_8iY5NbCZenSlm-tERhvQu9Cx9Gnq9EjFek66tLiwuFKzP2PsfhxXp77ghMZietrrUYqATOYo5yDuIzw_08Cr-xj53ShaKJtAAGBQ_eOE&__tn__=%2CO%2CP-R

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