As the new school term starts in many countries, efforts must be made to fight the pandemic in the communities where children and teachers live, senior World Health Organization (WHO) scientist Maria Van Kerkhove said on Friday.
If the novel coronavirus is spreading rapidly through communities, it can also enter schools, she said in a press briefing in Geneva.
“It is really critical that we bring outbreaks under control and transmission under control in areas where schools operate,” Van Kerkhove said, in response to a question about whether the WHO recommends reopening schools as cases increase in several European countries.
Schools do not only educate, but also play a vital role in feeding children and providing social interaction, said Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s chief Covid-19 scientist.
As mask requirements for young people differ by country, the WHO plans to issue guidance on face coverings for children in different age groups in the coming days.
WHO emergency operations chief Mike Ryan warned, however, that masks are just one of many tools to control the virus’ spread, and that they are not a substitute for social distancing or for a lower number of students in classes.
Van Kerkhove acknowledged that scientific knowledge is still limited about children and the transmission of the virus. “Studies are preliminary and few,” she said.
What is known is that children of all ages can become infected, but they that they usually suffer only mild symptoms, she said.