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Source: United Kingdom – Science Media Centre

Various measures are being put in place in the UK and further afield to try to reduce the contact between people who may have been exposed to COVID-19 and people with no history of exposure. These have included temporary closure of schools, the delay of the Ireland vs Italy Six Nations match and closure of several office blocks in the City of London.

Prof Andrew Tatem, Professor within Geography and Environmental Science, University of Southampton, said:

“While we’re seeing some worrying spread in some locations outside of China, we’re seeing progress in controlling the disease within China and here we should be looking to learn lessons. The approaches implemented that mostly boil down to trying to limit the amount of mixing between people appear to be having success. Schools, major sporting events, large offices are all places where large numbers of people mix and potentially provide ideal situations for the virus to pass from a few infected people to many others, who then disperse back to their communities and spread the virus further, potentially to some of those most susceptible to serious complications – i.e. the elderly or those with underlying health issues. If COVID-19 does continue to spread outside China, then we should certainly expect to see more cases of sporting events being postponed, schools closed and workers encouraged to stay home, and this is for the benefit of the population as a whole to try and limit and slow the spread of the virus.”

Dr Bharat Pankhania, Senior Clinical Lecturer, University of Exeter Medical School, said:

“If you have returned from the area of northern Italy that is currently in lockdown since February 19, you need to self-isolate, as per the advice from Public health England and The UK government. However, there’s no need for a school to close. There are consequences to closing schools. It’s disproportionate, and it gives the wrong impression. It makes people extremely concerned when there’s no need to be.”


Prof Azra Ghani, Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology, Imperial College London, said:

“Those schools that have decided to temporarily close due to students returning from affected areas in Italy will likely have made this decision as a precautionary response to prevent any potential onward transmission to staff and students. Understanding the overall impact of such a response more generally is, however, difficult.

“One critical piece of information that would inform a more general decision around school closure is the extent to which children contribute to onward transmission. For flu, past studies have demonstrated that school closure can have a measurable effect. This is because we know that children are susceptible to flu and that, due to being immunologically naïve in comparison to older children and adults who will have had prior exposure to similar viruses, they play a substantial role in sustaining transmission.

“From the experience in China, we know that there are relatively few cases of COVID-19 disease in children and teenagers compared to adults (accounting for the demographics of the population). This could mean that children remain susceptible but are less likely to develop severe symptoms and hence attend hospital; alternatively, it could indicate that children are less susceptible to infection. If the former is the case, then closing schools is likely to have some impact in slowing the epidemic and reducing the peak number of cases. However, any decision to do so would also need to take into account the duration that this could be sustained and the subsequent impact both on other aspects of young people’s well-being and the wider economy.” 


All our previous output on this subject can be seen at this weblink:


The SMC also produced a Factsheet on COVID-19 which is available here:

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MIL OSI United Kingdom