Dr Ed Hill, of the Zeeman Institute for Systems Biology and Infectious Disease Epidemiology Research (Sbider) at Warwick said: “Our model indicates that reopening schools alone is unlikely to push ‘R’ above one. But other changes in the wider population can exacerbate these effects, so any reopening policy should be implemented gradually to mitigate risk.”

The team investigated a range of school reopening scenarios, including the current policy as well as children returning in half-sized classes and all primary and secondary school children returning to full-time education.

They used a detailed mathematical model that merges case numbers, contacts of children and infection rates to calculate how mixing in classrooms will alter the trajectory of the virus. 

Professor Matt Keeling, the director of Sbider, said:  “Our work indicates that the current policy of reception, Year One and Year Six children returning to school is likely to result in a small increase in the reproduction number. In isolation, this is unlikely to push ‘R’ above one.”

Author Louise Dyson added: “We predict that the return of secondary school children to the classroom will result in greater mixing between children than if only primary school children return. However, it is important to note that any increase in mixing will likely lead to some increase in Covid-19 cases, even if the value of ‘R’ remains below one.”

The researchers conclude that the modelling supports the cautious complete reopening of schools and monitoring.

Co-author Dr Mike Tildesley said: “We would advise that the impact of any relaxation policy, including school reopenings, should be carefully monitored to establish the effect on the reproduction number and, if necessary, there should be a consideration of reintroduction of measures should there be a significant rise in cases in the future.”

The research, which has not been peer reviewed, is published on the university’s website.

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