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Christchurch-based infectious diseases and public health specialist Prof Philip Hill and paediatrician and infectious diseases researcher Associate Prof Tony Walls, of Otago University, say the lack of Covid-19 circulating in our community, fewer other viruses and bacteria than usual, and good systems for detection and contact tracing, meant parents should feel comfortable about sending their children back to school this week.
A new study in Australia looking at children exposed to Covid-19 in a school setting also supports this view.
Assoc Prof Walls said many parents would be asking themselves how safe it was to be sending their children back to school.
"The answer is, sending your children to school is as safe as it’s ever been."
He said overseas evidence showed while children could be infected with Covid-19, they seldom became sick enough to need to go to hospital, and were not the main spreaders of infection in communities.
But Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said alert level 3 was recovery room and didn't mean New Zealand was "out of the woods".
She said there may still be some "smouldering ashes" of Covid-19, and they had the potential to become a wildfire again if given the chance.
"We must continue to stay home if possible. No one wants a second wave in New Zealand," she said.
Schools and ECE centres will open tomorrow, but Ardern said the numbers of returning students was going to be "very low". "That's as it should be."
Ardern's media address follows director-general of health Ashley Bloomfield announcing three new Covid-19 cases in NZ, made up of two confirmed cases and one probable case.
A recent study in Australia tested contacts of teachers and children who tested positive for Covid-19.
Only two infections were transferred among 863 close contacts in schools where the 18 cases occurred.
No child-to-child transmissions occurred in primary schools. The only child infected at primary school got it from their teacher, the study reported.
Assoc Prof Walls said data from Covid-19 hot spots confirmed the lower risk of children as carriers and patients.
Prof Hill said Singapore had successfully controlled the spread of Covid-19 while allowing children to attend school. There had not been any outbreaks among children.
"It just doesn’t make sense to say this virus spreads widely in schools when there have been very few children affected in other countries where schools have been open."
He said nobody could say children would not get influenza or some other viral infection at school.
"The best protection for everyone in a school is to keep children and adults away from school if they are unwell, and to encourage everyone to wash their hands regularly during the day."