Coronavirus: Even experts are nervous about schools going back next week

A top Kiwi infectious disease expert has admitted he's nervous about Auckland kids going back to school next week, as more cases of COVID-19 show up in the community.

New research out of the UK however might allay fears somewhat, with scientists there saying even in the rare case of hospitalisation, deaths among children infected with the virus are rare. 

Auckland shifts from level 3 to 2 on Monday, allowing many workplaces to reopen their doors - including schools. But a handful of new cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed each day over the past week, and while most have been linked to the same cluster via contact tracing and genomic testing, the source of a few remain a mystery. 

"The health advice that we're getting is that we're confident the track-and-tracing is picking up the people, and there isn't wide community spread outside of the cluster that is being tracked," Labour MP David Parker told The AM Show on Friday.

"I'd like to see the kids go back to school," added National's Simon Bridges, also appearing on The AM Show. 

University of Otago dean and epidemiologist David Murdoch said while he doesn't have access to all the data Minister of Health Chris Hipkins and the Ministry of Health would have, based on the new cases still cropping up there are "reasons to be anxious".

"Aucklanders and the whole of New Zealand, we just need to really follow the guidelines," he said, referring to advice on hygiene, physical distancing and mask-wearing - some of which are recommendations, others mandated by law. 

"I think there are a few people a little anxious at the moment."

Researchers in the UK on Friday published the results of a new study into the effect COVID-19 has on children. While prior research has found kids can carry just as much as the virus as adults, they don't appear to fall sick as easily as adults do - making up only 1 or 2 percent of all confirmed cases - and when they do, their prognosis is generally much better.

The new study backs that up, finding that only one in five children hospitalised with a COVID-19 infection will need critical care, and only one in 100 will die - a "strikingly low" figure compared to adults, for whom the mortality rate - once hospitalised - is between 10 and 25 percent, prior studies show. 

Of the six children in the study who died, all had "profound comorbidity" - a prior condition known to increase the severity of COVID-19. 

David Murdoch.
David Murdoch. Photo credit: The AM Show

Eleven percent developed MIS-C, a mysterious inflammatory syndrome believed to be caused by the same virus that causes COVID-19, which only appears in children. None died, even though they were more likely to be admitted to critical care.

"Our data confirm less severe COVID-19 in children and young people with SARS-CoV-2 infection than in adults," the researchers concluded, using the scientific name for the virus. The study was published in the British Medical Journal on Friday (NZ time).

Prof Murdoch said the question remained whether kids were more likely to spread it to others, even if they're unlikely to fall seriously ill themselves. More than a third of New Zealand teachers are over 50 - the older you are, the more you are at risk of serious illness from COVID-19.

Eleven percent of New Zealand's confirmed cases have been in people aged zero to 19. That figure is likely higher than the international average because we only have a small number of infections by global standards, one of the biggest clusters taking place at a school. 

None have died - New Zealand's youngest victim being in their 60s. 

The World Health Organization has recommended kids 12 and older should wear masks just like adults.