Hugging and kissing children after they return from school may not be the “wisest thing to do,” warns a leading expert.
Professor Russell Viner, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and a member of Sage, has urged caution against the extent of physical contact between older adults and children back in school.
His comments came when thousands of students in England and Wales have started returning to classrooms in England and Wales this week, with the rest set to open their doors next week.
Professor Viner said during a Royal Society of Medicine webinar, “I think if there are very vulnerable clinically protected grandparents and others, that actually hugging and kissing your grandchildren after they get back from school might not be the most sensible way is worn.
“We don’t believe in cutting off all physical contact between children and grandparents, but actually a lot of kissing and things like that might not be the most sensible thing to do.”
He added, “Making sure children can see grandparents is important, making sure they wash their hands, etc. When they come out of school. Being sensible, being relatively safe, I think this is the way forward. “
When asked about the risks of children returning from school and then seeing their grandparents, Professor Viner said, “I understand the concerns very well, especially from families where grandparents or parents are clinically vulnerable and have protected them.
“This is also a specific problem I am aware of for many multi-generational BAME heritage families.”
Professor Viner added: “Obviously children can be asymptomatic, children can be contagious, clearly they can pose risks to adults, there is no pretense that they don’t. The truth is, this seems to be one of the least common ways adults get infected. “
At the same event, Amanda Spielman, Chief Inspector of Ofsted, called on schools to prioritize exercise for children, as it can boost youth mental health.
She said, “People seem to be paying a lot more attention to mental health than physical health, which I find rather odd given the importance of physical activity for the well-being of children.
“I’ve noticed very little about restoring children’s physical health compared to the amount I’ve seen about restoring their mental health.
“I would like to do what I can from where I sit to keep reminding people that the physical is important.”
She added, “I hope many schools will be positively excited about getting children to exercise outside as much as possible.”
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said, “It is so encouraging to see schools open their gates to the new semester and I am delighted to see children reunited with their classmates and teachers.”
He added: “Next week, more schools will remain open to all students, following teacher training courses and New Year group introductions.
“It is vital that time is taken to fully get used to new routines and I am convinced that we have the right contingency plans in place to meet any challenges.”