Schools opening and bad flu season could overwhelm hospitals, WHO says

Schools reopening and flu season mean a surge in Covid-19 patients will pile pressure back on hospitals this winter, warns WHO Europe director

  • Dr Hans Kluge said he ‘wouldn’t be surprised’ if hospital admissions surged
  • Warned Britain facing ‘three phenomena’ in colder months, on top of Covid
  • They include flu season, children mingling at school and excess elderly deaths

The reopening of schools and the winter flu season returning could mean Covid-19 patients pile the pressure on NHS hospitals again, a World Health Organization director has warned.   

Dr Hans Kluge, the WHO’s Europe chief, said he ‘wouldn’t be surprised’ if hospital admissions surged this November to levels seen during the worst days of the pandemic.

He warned Britain was facing ‘three phenomena’ in the colder months on top of coronavirus – including children picking up the disease at school, an uptick in influenza cases and excess deaths among elderly people.

Dr Kluge said, unlike back in March, a national lockdown was not an option this time because the negative impact it would have on schools, the economy and society as a whole was too great. 

Top scientists today criticised the ‘alarmist’ view that schools could be breeding grounds for the virus, saying there is no evidence to back it up.  

It comes as schools in England finally reopened today after their doors were slammed shut six months ago when the country went into lockdown. 

Dr Hans Kluge said he ‘wouldn’t be surprised’ if hospital admissions surged this November to levels seen during the worst days of the pandemic because of schools reopening combined with a bad flu season

Pupils at Rosshall Academy in Glasgow wear face coverings as it becomes mandatory in corridors and communal areas on August 31

Speaking on the Radio 4 Today programme, Dr Kluge said: ‘Let’s not forget that we’re entering three phenomena.

‘One is the reopening of the schools for the academic year, the second is the flu season and the third is the excess mortality in the elderly population during the winter.

Britain’s most senior paediatrician claims children are at a greater risk of contracting measles than coronavirus.

President of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health Professor Russell Viner advised parents to send their children back to school, claiming he’s ‘far more worried about the risk to children of measles than of Covid’.

Later today, Boris Johnson will tell his Cabinet that the reopening of schools should act as a springboard for ‘more normality’ for the whole country.

Millions of children return to classrooms this week, with many heading back for the first time in almost six months.

Professor Viner told The Sun: ‘If your job is about the care of children, and if you know that the risk of them getting ill with Covid is incredibly small, you want to see schools reopen.

 ‘Last week saw yet another scientific paper telling us very, very few children become seriously ill with Covid-19.’

So I wouldn’t be surprised, unfortunately, if we see an increase [in hospital admissions] in October, especially towards late November. 

‘There’s no reason for panic but we have to be aware. It is far too early to draw all the conclusions for the time being but we know what needs to be done.

‘This is the key message: if we look back in February, the full option was lockdown and re-booting but now we should target the virus and not the schooling, the economy and society.’

Dr Kluge said schools should be the absolute last place to close again if targeted lockdowns are needed to curb Covid-19’s spread.

Because we see that there has been a tremendous negative impact by school closures,’ he said.

‘Both in terms of education, but also mental health, social development and lets not forget there are abusive home environments.

‘Most cases of covid 19 in children are mild or asymptomatic. So in that sense we say as a society we have to open the schools.’

Dr Kluge said there appeared to be a ‘small’ risk of children picking up the disease at school and bringing it home to their parents.

But scientists today said this theory was ‘simply not borne out by the experience of the past six months.’ 

Professor Carl Heneghan, director of the University of Oxford’s Centre for Evidence-based Medicine, called for the Government to put out clear and concise messaging that schools were very safe.

Writing in the Daily Mail today, he said: ‘We need to reassure parents that it’s safe for children to return to school this week. 

‘School-age pupils are the least likely to display any Covid-19 symptoms, and it will be a tragedy if they are denied the chance to restart their education by ill-founded fears.

‘We need our children to be smarter than ourselves to ensure we do not repeat the mistakes of our current generation – we need them to be in class.

‘The alarmists will say that such asymptomatic people are just as likely to spread the coronavirus – and are perhaps even more dangerous, because they don’t know they have it. That fear simply is not borne out by the experience of the past six months.’

Professor Heneghan also rubbished talks of a second wave and said anyone who believed there was a resurgence was misinterpreting the data.

He added: ‘Don’t be misled, as so many people are, by the rise in infections nationally. 

‘On Sunday, 1,715 people across Britain tested positive for Covid-19, the most since early June. It’s easy to misinterpret that data and to assume that we’re in the grip of the feared ‘second wave’.

‘We are not. There is currently no second wave. What we are seeing is a sharp rise in the number of healthy people who are carrying the virus, but exhibiting no symptoms. 

‘Almost all of them are young. They are being spotted because – finally – a comprehensive system of national test and trace is in place.’

‘And while young people might have an infection, they appear well and healthy, not showing any symptoms.’

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