Children who get severe coronavirus symptoms or die from the disease are “vanishingly rare”, a study suggests.
Parents worried about sending their children back to school in September should be reassured by the research, its authors claim.
The study – published in the British Medical Journal – is the largest in the world so far that looks at children who are admitted to hospital with COVID-19.
The sample of 651 youngsters admitted to 138 hospitals across England and Wales between 17 January and 3 July shows that just 18% needed critical care.
Those children were most likely to be black, under a month old, or between the ages of 10 and 14, the study claims.
Only six of the 651 children monitored – 1% – died of coronavirus, but all of them had underlying conditions.
Calum Semple, professor of child health and outbreak medicine at the University of Liverpool, said “severe disease is rare and death is vanishingly rare” in children infected with COVID-19.
“Parents should be confident that their children are not going to be put at direct harm by going back to school,” he added.
Only 11% of the children developed a hyper-inflammatory response to coronavirus – and these children were more likely to be older or from a black, Asian or minority ethnic background.
The symptoms they suffered included fatigue, muscle pain, a sore throat and a low blood platelet count – but none of these cases were fatal.
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Dr Olivia Swann, clinical lecturer in paediatric infectious diseases at the University of Edinburgh and the study’s first author, added: “The absolute risk of any child in the UK being admitted to hospital with COVID-19 is tiny.
“The absolute risk of them being admitted to critical care with COVID-19 is even tinier.
“Nothing is ever risk free, but for myself as a parent, as a children’s doctor and as a researcher, I find this study and these numbers extremely reassuring.”
In England, 97% of schools are set to welcome back pupils full-time next month, union data shows.
The 3% who are not doing this are instead planning transition periods for new pupils or phased entry, figures from the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) reveal.
However, Barnardo’s has warned that hundreds of thousands of children may refuse to go back to school – with some feeling nervous, upset and scared about their return to the classroom.
The children’s charity is urging schools to have a “readjustment period” of at least one term where teachers can prioritise staff and pupil wellbeing – and cautioned against “business as usual” from day one.