Children between the ages of 12 and 16 are far more likely to spread Covid-19 than any other age group, a government scientist has claimed.
With the reopening of most secondary schools after the Christmas holidays delayed by two weeks, an expert has said children from 12 to 16 are "seven times more likely than others in a household to bring the infection into a household".
Professor Sir Mark Walport, who sits on the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), said it is clear the mutant strain of coronavirus is spreading "much more readily" and will be difficult to control without "much tighter" restrictions.
He told BBC's The Andrew Marr Show: "We know the transmission occurs within schools. We know that a person between 12 and 16 is seven times more likely than others in a household to bring the infection into a household.
"And we know that there is a small dip in the amount of transmission in school children after the half term, which then went back again when they went back."
Sir Mark said the mutant Covid-19 strain, which is thought to be up to 70% more contagious than the original variant, is part of the natural evolution of a virus and the ones that can "transmit the most effectively have an advantage over other variants".
He said: "It's clear that this new variant is transmitting more readily, it's transmitting more readily in younger age groups as well.
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"It's important to note that it doesn't appear to cause worse disease or that it's going to be more resistant to the effects of the vaccine, but it is going to be very, very difficult to keep under control without much tighter social distancing measures."
It came as the UK recorded 54,900 coronavirus cases – the sixth day in a row that the total topped 50,000.
That is along with 454 deaths, taking the total past 75,000 over the course of the pandemic.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is urging parents to send their children back to primary school tomorrow, but some local councils are calling on the government to delay their reopening.
Meanwhile, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer called for another national lockdown to be imposed within 24 hours because the virus is "clearly out of control".
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said secondary schools within the 60 "contingency areas" may remain closed to most pupils after January 18.
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