Experts believe home schooling is entrenching the advantage already enjoyed by children from better off families, and risks permanently damaging the development of thousands.
Prof Viner, arguably the most senior scientific voice to question the value of continued school closures so far, also warned of the safety of children from troubled homes.
“You could almost argue that children and young people – we have put their lives on hold, we have put their education on hold, they have had a whole series of harms because of what we have done to benefit the middle-aged and the elderly, and we need to think about equity across generations over the coming years,” he said.
He added that the coronavirus mortality risk in children has been much lower compared to adults, with 11 deaths for under-18s compared to over 40,000 for adults, saying: “In one sense, that tells us everything we need to know about differential risks.”
Although there has been some uncertainty about the role children might play in transmission of the virus, Prof Viner said a recent review of studies around the world, which he led, suggested children are half as likely to catch coronavirus as adults.
He added: “My take on it is that children – individual children – can be highly infective and can have high individual viral load but as a population, as they are less likely to get it, they don’t play a major role in the transmission.”
Prof Viner said that while there is “very little evidence” of Sars-Cov-2 transmission in schools and nurseries, the data on transmission is “very complex”.
He said: “There is the occasional outbreak in schools we have documented from a number of countries, but actually those countries that have reopened schools – Denmark, Germany and Norway and others – are telling us they are not seeing outbreaks in schools and elsewhere.”