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Last spring and summer, we read many articles about Europe’s success in keeping its schools open, based on the belief that young children are less likely to get sick with COVID-19 and less likely to spread it.
Ruth Bender reports in The Wall Street Journal that European nations are closing their schools because new studies show that children do get the disease and are likely to spread it.
As U.S. authorities debate whether to keep schools open, a consensus is emerging in Europe that children are a considerable factor in the spread of Covid-19—and more countries are shutting schools for the first time since the spring.
Closures have been announced recently in the U.K., Germany, Ireland, Austria, Denmark and the Netherlands on concerns about a more infectious variant of the virus first detected in the U.K. and rising case counts despite lockdowns.
While the debate continues, recent studies and outbreaks show that schoolchildren, even younger ones, can play a significant role in spreading infections.
“In the second wave we acquired much more evidence that schoolchildren are almost equally, if not more infected by SARS-CoV-2 than others,“ said Antoine Flahault, director of the University of Geneva’s Institute of Global Health.
Schools have represented one of the most contentious issues of the pandemic given the possible long-term impact of closures on children and the economic fallout from parents being forced to stay home.
The recent shutdown of schools was especially dramatic in England. U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson initially planned to keep elementary schools there open after the Christmas break, but changed course amid soaring infections. After one day back, schools were closed until further notice. Plans to gradually reopen high schools through January were also scrapped.
“The problem is not that schools are unsafe for children,” Mr. Johnson said last week. “The problem is schools may nonetheless act as vectors for transmission, causing the virus to spread between households.”
As recently as November, European policy makers were adamant that schools would generally remain open through the current wave of infections, with short-term closures limited to single schools or classes whenever new cases were identified.
Many school districts have remained open or tried to open during the battle over whether opening was safe.
Yet scientists in Europe say that the latest research suggests otherwise. Mr. Flahault said an antibody survey conducted by researchers in Geneva in May and December, using thousands of random samples, found that children of age 6 to 18 were getting infected as often as young adults. The study has yet to be peer reviewed….
In Austria, a nationwide survey by universities and medical institutes found that children under 10 showed a similar rate of infection to those between 11 and 14, and that the children in general were getting infected as often as teachers, said Michael Wagner, a microbiologist at the University of Vienna who oversees the study.