Kids in England were diagnosed with just 1% of coronavirus cases during the first peak - but does that mean it's safe to return to school?

The authors of the new study say it provides evidence that the return to schools in September will be safe (Photo: Shutterstock)

A new study has shown that children under 16 in England made up just one per cent of coronavirus cases during the first peak of the virus.

The authors of the new study, led by Public Health England (PHE), say that their findings show the "limited role" of children in the coronavirus pandemic. The findings have come just weeks ahead of school children in England returning to classrooms in September.

While Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he has "no doubt" that schools can return safely next month, some scientists have expressed concern that secondary school age children can transmit the virus in the same way as adults.

Will a return to schools cause a spike in coronavirus cases?

The findings of this latest study are likely to be seized upon by UK officials as evidence that a return to schools will not result in a spike of coronavirus cases.

The authors of the study found that, between 1 January and 3 May, 129,704 people out of 540,305 tested positive for coronavirus. A total of 35,200 tests were carried out on children under 16, with 1,408 confirmed cases among children aged 15.

This equated to around four per cent of all children who were tested having a positive result. In comparison, 19.1 per cent to 34.9 per cent of adults who tested got a positive result.

A peak in coronavirus cases was reached on 11 April, then cases began to gradually decline.

'Growing evidence that children play a limited role in the coronavirus pandemic'

Overall, children accounted for 1.1 per cent of coronavirus cases in the study, when considered in the context of positive cases for the virus among all age groups.

During the time that the study was carried out, there were eight coronavirus-related deaths of children.

However, in four of the cases, another cause of death was identified, with coronavirus reported to be an "incidental or an indirect contributor to death", say the authors of the study.

In the conclusion to the study, the authors say their findings contribute to a "growing body of evidence on the limited role of children in the Covid-19 pandemic."

They also added, "Children accounted for a very small proportion of confirmed cases despite the large numbers of children tested."

However, researchers noted that one of the "key" unanswered questions pertains to whether children who do not display symptoms are still playing a role in transmission of the virus. They do cite separate research which found that, in household infections, children were "never the first to be infected or to be the source of infection in the household."

'Still not clear why young children have a lower risk of infection'

Lead author, Dr Shamez Ladhani, from PHE, told Sky News that it is "still not clear why young children have such a low risk of infection compared to older children or adults."

"One theory is that, compared to adults, children have fewer ACE2 receptors which the virus can bind to in cells that line the respiratory tract," Ladhani went on.

"The way the immune system reacts to the virus is also likely to be different in children compared to adults.

"Whilst these numbers are reassuring for children, they include a long period of complete lockdown where children were less likely to have been exposed to the virus."

Dr Mike Tildesley from the University of Warwick, also told Sky News that the study provides "further supporting evidence" that the reopening of schools come September "should represent an extremely low risk to any individual child."