Half term should be extended and bars closed in order to keep schools open amid a second wave of Covid-19, one of the UK’s top scientists has said.
Professor Neil Ferguson, who was a leading figure behind Imperial College London’s pandemic modelling which informed the government’s decision to initiate a lockdown in March, said harsher restrictions should be considered in order to combat transmission – particularly in secondary schools.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4′s Today programme, Ferguson explained that the current rate of infections had occurred in “a very different context” to the restrictions across Europe earlier in 2020, with schools and universities now open.
He said: “While we don’t think primary schools are a major vector of transmission, older teenagers do transmit the virus and we don’t yet know whether we can control this virus with high schools open as yet.
“We’re in a more difficult position. If we want to keep schools open we have to reduce contacts in other areas of society.”
Asked if the government should consider closing schools as they are in New York, where rates of the virus are also rising rapidly, Ferguson said he didn’t think closures should be considered “right now” as the increase in infection rates is currently much higher in the US than the UK.
He added: “But you’ll have heard measures being discussed in society as a whole, such as extended half terms where we try to reduce transmission for a concerted period.
“I think those measures should be considered. I’m certainly not one to say we should close schools – it’s highly disruptive to children’s education and social wellbeing, but we just have to accept that in other areas we may have to give up more in order to keep them open.”
In reference to the decision in Paris to close all bars in a effort to reduce transmission, Ferguson said: “We see from the contact tracing being collected by the government that if you look at the risk factors for becoming a case, in the last few weeks, then attending bars, restaurants and hospitality venues is a risk.
“Yes we may need to, particularly in hotspot areas where cases are increasing fast, we may need to consider those measures.”
While Ferguson said that an extended half term and bar and restaurant closures should be considered, he explained that a ban on meeting other households outside – as seen in some local lockdown areas already – may not be necessary over the entire country.
He said: “If people are sensible meeting outdoors then really the risk is quite low. I think the risk really comes from meeting indoors in enclosed environments.
“Of course, as the weather gets colder meeting outdoors is less appealing – people do obviously want to meet indoors – but that’s where transmission happens unfortunately.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.