The Swiss government has decided to reopen schools on 11 May 2020. Behind the decision is a belief that children do not play a major role in transmission of the virus.
Switzerland’s federal governments says children rarely fall ill, and when they do they present few to no symptoms and rarely transmit the virus.
Speaking at a press conference on 1 May 2020, Matthias Egger, head of the government’s scientific group investigating Covid-19, said the best way to spread the virus is a good cough, but because children typically have mild symptoms this is less likely. In addition, Egger said that while some children could spread the virus, children are not a major driver of the spread.
An early study supporting the Swiss government’s view centres on a child infected in France. On 7 February 2020, a British man arrived in Contamines-Montjoie, a French ski resort, after becoming infected with Covid-19 on a trip to Singapore. He transmitted the disease to a 9 year old child among a number of others staying in the same chalet. While symptomatic, the child, who tested positive for two additional viruses, visited 3 schools. None of the people the child came into contact with who were tested for Covid-19 tested positive. This led to the hypothesis that children are poor spreaders of the disease. Another, is that the child had a low viral load, something that might be related to the presence of the other viral infections.
A study in Australia looked at Covid-19 spread from 9 infected students and 9 infected staff to the other 735 students and 128 staff at 15 schools. It found two possible secondary infections in children and no secondary infections in staff. Studies in the Netherlands and Iceland produced similar results.
In contrast to these findings, a recent study led by Christian Drosten, who directs the Institute of Virology at the Charité Hospital in Berlin, finds the “viral loads in the very young do not differ significantly from those of adults. Based on these results, we have to caution against an unlimited re-opening of schools and kindergartens in the present situation. Children may be as infectious as adults.”
Trying to understand the role children play in transmitting the virus by epidemiological observation is currently difficult because of the current restrictions on physical contact, stated the report. Children might be low transmitters of the virus because kindergartens and schools are closed rather than because they are less infectious.
Federal government guidance on schools and children (in French) – Take a 5 minute French test now