Omicron warning: Schools told to brace for ‘really big’ wave of Covid cases – crisis looms

SAGE scientist on sending children to school amid omicron wave

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Professor Christina Pagel was speaking at the regular Friday briefing of the Independent SAGE group of scientific experts – as the number of daily Covid cases topped 90,000. Prof Pagel was responding to questioning by Kevin Courtney, the joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, who asked what could be done to mitigate the speed of the highly infectious new strain in schools.

She said: “I suspect we’ll see a really big Omicron wave in schools.”

Prof Pagel explained: “Children largely under-vaccinated or unvaccinated.

“We know that actually previous infection is not that protective against Omicron.

“So this idea that children get herd immunity and be fine, I don’t think that’s going to be borne out.”

She added: “I think fresh clean air is the most important mitigation that we can have given they are inside all day.”

Every classroom needed a CO2 monitor to enable teachers decide when they have to open the windows.

At times when that was not practical, high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters had been shown to be effective and were “quite cheap”, Prof Pagel pointed out.

She said: “You could do every classroom for a few hundred quid and in the context of what the Government spent on the pandemic, that’s not very much.

“You can’t do it all at once because we just don’t have as many filters available but you have to start – if you don’t start you’ll never finish.”

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Turning her attention to other ways of managing infections, Prof Pagel suggested it would be inadvisable to allow contacts of anyone infected to return to a school setting.

She said: “I think if a child has someone in their house who has Covid that child should stay at home.

“Anyone who’s a household contact of someone who has COVID should be isolating, and that includes children.”

Susan Michie, Professor of Health Psychology & Director of Centre for Behaviour Change, UCL, added: “There are two weeks and then the term is going to be really, really difficult.

“I know there have been lots of voices, lots of prominent voices and prominent groups but so far, we haven’t seen a national response at Government level.”

Emphasising the importance of adequate ventilation, she said: “My sense is really to bring groups of people together as much as possible to make an even bigger noise and a bigger voice than we’ve had up till now and make sure that parents governing bodies, teachers, children themselves, are making these kinds of demands.

“Because we’re not sending our children to schools to drink poisoned water.

So why should we be sending them into schools to breathe poisoned air?”

Separately, documents released by the official Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) on Saturday indicated restrictions “similar in scale to the national lockdown” were needed to keep hospital admissions from coronavirus below previous peaks.

Advice included that indoor mixing is the “biggest risk factor” for the spread of the variant of coronavirus, and that large gatherings risked creating “multiple spreading events”.

Minutes from a Sage meeting on Thursday said stricter measures could be needed including “reducing group sizes, increasing physical distancing, reducing duration of contacts and closing high-risk premises”.

The experts warned that even if transmission rates were reduced, hospital admission levels were likely to be between 1,000 and 2,000 per day in England by the end of the year.

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