One of the government’s top medical advisers has urged parents to “control their teenagers” to help stop a new wave of coronavirus.
Deputy chief medical officer Jenny Harries warned that a second epidemic of the deadly disease – or even a series of waves – cannot be ruled out if infections run out of control once more.
But she played down the risk that the planned full reopening of schools in September will increase the danger, arguing that teenagers are more likely to spread the virus while spending time with friends outside the classroom.
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Speaking alongside education secretary Gavin Williamson at a 10 Downing Street coronavirus briefing, Dr Harries said: “A second wave is quite a possibility – that is not ruled out at all. A second peak – as in an epidemic peak – is also not ruled out.
“In fact, in pandemics you can sometimes see successive ones – so we’re talking about a second, but you can get waves and waves.”
However Dr Harries said it was “much more likely” that the UK would see a series of localised outbreaks, like the one currently under way in Leicester, which could be dealt with by small-scale lockdowns rather than the national restrictions imposed since March.
She said that it should be easier to prevent the spread of coronavirus in schools that in some other locations.
“The original guidance recognised that the transmission risks were potentially more in the social behaviours of the teenagers – the older children out of school – than they potentially were in school,” said Dr Harries.
“School is quite a controlled environment and perhaps trying to encourage families as well – I know it is difficult because I’ve been there – but to try and control their teenagers in their social interactions outside of school as well.”
Dr Harries said the outbreak in Leicester was not caused by the return of schools, saying it was “community transmission”.
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“This is not a picture of a particular focal point, and certainly not on schools.”
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said the outbreak in Leicester was “not something about schools returning”.
And he joked that “as a father with two teenage daughters, I think that school has far more control over my daughters than I’ve ever been able to achieve”.