Health expert insists Sheffield schools are safe and must reopen 'as soon as possible'

A Sheffield-based public health expert has insisted schools are safe and called for them to reopen as soon as possible.

Thursday, 18th February 2021, 8:24 am

Dr Andrew Lee, reader of global public health at the University of Sheffield, said ‘we owe it to kids to open up schools as soon as we can’ as the potentially devastating effects on children pile up.

He said: "The impact for learning as a result of lockdown has been terrible and it will be definitely a lot worse for kids in more deprived neighbourhoods who haven't got as much access to resources.

“A study from Holland said a three-month lockdown leads to a learning loss of one year, it's quite significant.”

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Parents in Sheffield have spoken of their homeschooling struggles without a computer, which has resulted in kids taking it in turns to use a smartphone and missing out on online classes with their friends.

Dr Lee added: “The social isolation for kids will have an impact on their mental wellbeing. There have been studies from the US and China which show more anxiety, more depression, this might have long-term effects.

"It's right that we make prioritising reopening schools as soon as it's safe to.”

Research at the University of Warwick found no significant evidence schools are playing a significant role in driving the spread of Covid-19, particularly in primary schools.

Pupils wear face coverings (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Dr Lee said: “Generally, the risk is fairly low for primary schools and nurseries. For younger children, the risk of them spreading infections is pretty low. That would be somewhere safe to start.

“I'm not saying that no infections happen in these groups but not to the same level as older groups.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said the reopening of schools from March 8 is a ‘priority’ and has not ruled out a phased return for different age groups.

Schoolchildren aged three to seven will return to classrooms in Scotland and Wales from next Monday.

Dr Andrew Lee.

Dr Lee added: “Our infection levels now are much, much lower than what they were in November and we managed to keep schools going right through November.

"It's important to put that risk into context for people because there's a lot of fear.”

School safety measures from contact tracing to more fresh air in classrooms are ‘very sensible’ and must continue, said Dr Lee.

He added: "One of the things I'm surprised we don't do more of in this country is consider the use of face masks in schools. If you look at Taiwan and Singapore, the use of face masks is quite normal.”

The latest available data shows there were 132 cases per 100,000 people in Sheffield in the seven days to 11 February, compared to 21 in June 2020.

Dr Lee said: "Whatever measures you put in varies a lot to the risk in the community. If there's more infections clearly you need more measures. If we get down to the infection levels we had last summer then the need for these measures will be less.

“We need the support of parents. If you have got an ill child, please don't send your ill child to school. When the child is in school that's where the risk of transmission is. It's not just down to the school, it's down to the parents."