LONDON • Covid-19 infections in children in England rose last month after schools reopened following the summer holidays, helping to keep numbers high even as there was a fall in cases among adults, a large prevalence study showed yesterday.
Infection numbers in Britain are much higher than in other western European countries, but have not risen above summer levels following the reopening of schools in September in England despite higher infection rates in children.
The React-1 study, which was led by Imperial College London, found that Covid-19 prevalence among those aged 13 to 17 was 2.55 per cent between Sept 9 and 27, with prevalence in those aged five to 12 at 2.32 per cent. Prevalence for every adult age group was estimated below 1 per cent.
"Prevalence was high and increasing in school-aged children during September," Dr Paul Elliott, director of the study, said, adding that increased vaccination uptake in school-aged children and adults would help limit transmission.
The study, which analysed 100,527 valid swabs, found that the epidemic was growing among those aged 17 and under, with an estimated reproduction "R" number of 1.18.
An R number above 1 implies exponential growth, while a number below 1 implies the epidemic is shrinking.
The epidemic was estimated to be shrinking in the 18-54 age group, with an R number of 0.81, and broadly steady among those over 55.
While around 90 per cent of over 18s have had one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, vaccination rates of children are much lower, and broad vaccination of those aged 12 to 15 only began last month.
"It just could have been avoided to have this large amount of spread among schoolchildren... if they'd done the vaccinations earlier," said Dr Brian Ferguson of the University of Cambridge's Division of Immunology.
He added that while it looked like transmission from children to adults was not going to be a big problem, there was uncertainty heading into the winter.
In daily figures, Britain reported 42,776 new Covid-19 cases on Wednesday, the highest number since mid-July, but Health Minister Sajid Javid played down the fluctuations in numbers.
"Overall, things feel quite stable at this point. The numbers are a bit up, a bit down over the last few weeks," he told Times Radio, adding that the government's strategy was working.
According to a report published by British lawmakers on Tuesday on lessons learnt from the pandemic, the UK's failure to do more to stop Covid-19 spreading early last year was one of the country's worst public health failures.