Schools closing could be behind drop in Covid cases, expert says

Dr Mike Tildesley said he is ‘cautiously optimistic’

Eleanor Sly
Monday 26 July 2021 13:41
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<p>School leaver celebrate the end of term</p>

School leaver celebrate the end of term

The school summer holidays could be responsible for the fall in Covid-19 cases across the UK, a leading expert has said.

Dr Mike Tildesley, who is a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Modelling group (Spi-M) advising ministers, said he is “cautiously optimistic” about the decrease in numbers of coronavirus cases, but said that only time will tell if the Covid third wave is “turning round”.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, the expert in infectious diseases said that “any situation where cases are falling clearly is good news”.

But added: “I think what we need to think about, though, is that there has been a change recently and I think the big one is that, in a lot of parts of the country, schools have now closed for the summer.

“Now, of course, because of that, what that means is... secondary school children have been doing lateral flow tests twice a week for quite a long period of time and we know at the moment cases are slightly higher in younger people, [and] because schools have now broken up, it may be that part of the reason cases have dropped somewhat is that we’re not detecting as many cases in younger people now.

Dr Tildesley went on to add that hospital admissions and deaths from Covid-19 need to be looked at to see whether we can “really draw confidence in whether we are seeing everything turning round,” as it always takes several weeks for case numbers to be reflected in admissions to hospital.

He suggested that this time lag between infections and hospital admissions, would mean that  numbers of admissions are likely to continue to rise in the coming days, even though the number of cases is in decline.

He explained: “I would say that the fact the cases have gone down for the last five days or so is... I’m cautiously optimistic about that, but I think we’re going to have to wait another couple of weeks before we see, firstly, the effect of the 19th of July relaxation and, second, whether hospital admissions will start to go down.

“I think if they do then at that point we can be much more confident that we’re starting to see, hopefully, this wave turning round.”

On the subject of lateral flow testing in secondary schools, the doctor explained that more lateral flow testing would mean that more positive cases were found.

He explained: “When [lateral flow testing] stops, it’s possible that cases may seem to go down, when infections may be not going down as fast.”

Adding: “We need to monitor this over the next few days to see if this is consistently going down or whether we are sort of seeing a dip because schools are closed and then maybe things might level off again, so I think it remains to be seen exactly what’s going to happen.”

Currently, figures in the UK indicate that the number of new cases of Covid-19 reported each day have fallen for the fifth consecutive day.

In total, 29,173 cases were reported by the UK government on Sunday which is down from 48,161 which were reported on 18 July. This is the first time since February that Covid case numbers have fallen in the UK for five days in a row.

It is however too early to see whether or not the final lifting of lockdown restrictions on 19 July has had an effect on case numbers.

Education minister Vicky Ford announced on Monday that, although the sustained drop in Covid cases is “very good news,” people should not become complacent.

“We all know how quickly it can go back up again,” she told Sky News.

“I think it does show how important it is that we continue to take issues like self-isolation really seriously as well and continue to encourage people to get that vaccine, and the double vaccine indeed, because that’s going to be the way that we get out of this longer term.”

The news comes as senior ministers are set to discuss extending the rollout of daily testing sites to help allow further exemptions from isolation for critical workers in order to tackle the so-called “pingdemic,” where large numbers of people have been asked to self isolate having been “pinged” by the NHS app.

Additional reporting by PA

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