Listen: Science experts answer young people’s coronavirus questions

We all hear a lot about coronavirus and the science behind it in the news, but it’s not always explained in a way that’s easy to understand. 

Because of this, children and young people – like everyone else – have a lot of questions about the virus, and it isn’t always easy to find the answers.

So, during a virtual event on the 11th of August, 12 young people from Northern Ireland, EnglandScotland and Wales had the opportunity to ask their own Covid related questions covering different topic areas such as social bubbles, facemasks and public transport. These were answered by three government scientists, Professor Brooke Rogers, Professor Charlotte Watts and Professor Russell Viner. The event was organised together with the four UK Commissioners’ offices and the  Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), and was chaired by the Children’s Commissioner for England.

Three young people from Northern Ireland, Joseph, Ellie and Matt, joined nine others from across the UK to put their questions directly to the scientists. A number of other children submitted questions for the panel and we weren’t able to read all of these out during the interview but we will update with written answers once we get them.

Thank you to all of those who took part!

Listen to the full event

Full list of questions 

Erin, Wales (4:29 in)

When a new virus like Covid-19 emerges, what are the stages in the development of a vaccine― could explain a bit about the process? How it gets to human trials, things like that.

Aidan, England (9:25 in)

What is the scientific evidence behind wearing a face mask? 

Joseph, Northern Ireland (16:12 in)

Does Covid-19 live on plants and pets, and if so for how long?

Isla, England (20:13 in)

Why do we need bubbles to keep children and families safe? Because it’s hard that children can’t hug their grandparents.

Saffie, England (23:43 in)

What scientific advice do you give to students who use public transport or school buses to get to school?

Milly, England (29:24 in)

Me and my grandparents are terrified of the swab test.  Is there any other test that’s easier for kids to use, and what about children with special educational needs and disability (SEND)? 

Matt, Northern Ireland (35:18 in)

Has the virus mutated or changed since the initial outbreak, and why hasn’t it affected children so far? 

Ellie, Northern Ireland (38:11 in)

Is it safe to wear uniform that can’t be washed such as ties and blazers and is there any risk from touching shared objects like books, paper and computers? 

Ailidh, Scotland (44:14 in)

What are the scientific reasons behind believing that young children pose a low risk of transmitting the virus to their peers than older children, and does social distancing reduce that risk? 

Evey, Wales (50:26 in)

We hear a lot about people suffering with the Coronavirus and how it causes breathing problems, but there’s never really been any clear information about the effect it has. So my question is: How does Coronavirus affect the body?

Ibby, Wales (55:51 in)

We know that Black Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) people are infected badly by Covid-19. What can BAME young people do to remain safe and have their health not impacted by COVID-19? 

Coll, Scotland (1:01:15 in)

When did evidence first begin to emerge about the risks of carriers transmitting who weren’t showing symptoms and how has that understanding developed over time? 

Were there particular circumstances identified where there may be more likely to be carriers transmitting without having symptoms?

Written Answers

Due to the time constraints, the scientists agreed to provide follow up written answers to further questions:

1. Childhood Virus Transmission

Q: How does the age of children affect our ability to carry the virus?

A: From a behavioural perspective we would consider the ability of children to transmit the virus rather than carry it.  In terms of transmission, very young children are less able to engage in protective health behaviours such as social distancing, avoiding face touching, effective hand hygiene, and more.  Older children are able to understand and follow the health advice.  However, there are concerns that older children have wider networks so infection may have further to travel if transmitted by an older child.

2. Covid-19

Q: Once COVID is no longer a pandemic will scientists still do research and studies on it or will it not really matter any more? 

A: Pandemics will always matter.  Pandemic Influenza has been at the top of the public-facing National Risk Register in respect to its potential likelihood of occurring the in the next 5 years and the impacts that it can have on society (see here). The NRR informs research, policy, planning, and response.  Many of the things that we have learned during the COVID-19 response will inform the ways in which we prepare for and respond for future pandemics.

3. Disability

Q: Are you going to produce information about the science and how it relates to the advice for those with special education needs and disabilities? 

A: This is an excellent question.  Populations who are potentially more vulnerable are in important part of emergency planning and response. They are an important part of research, too. Vulnerable populations can be more difficult to study due to more stringent ethical approval processes and the need to put additional safeguarding protocols in place.  This does not mean that we cannot and do not study more vulnerable populations.  For example, work being conducted by an NIHR Health Protection Research Unit in Emergency Preparedness and Response (see ) focuses some of its work on vulnerable populations (e.g. the elderly, children).  They have new projects planned to investigate disaster education and communication in schools, and communicating with hard to reach populations during extreme events. Your question has the potential to focus part of the disaster education work on SEND students. 

4. Pandemic

Q: Why do you keep talking about Coronavirus so much? 

A: COVID-19 has the potential to change society as we know it.  The medical response to COVID-19 is already transforming the scientific landscape.  We also know that public behaviour has the potential to increase or decrease the transmission of the virus. As a result, public behaviour is one of our most important ‘tools’ for preventing the risk of infection in order to give the physical and medical sciences time to identify and create solutions for limiting environmental spread and preventing or treating infections.  As such, communication is one of our most powerful tools for limiting the spread of infection at the moment.

5. Return to School

Q: What safe practices are most important for returning to school? 

A: Following the guidance not to attend if you are symptomatic, appropriate physical distancing where possible (though this varies by age group in schools), good hand and cough hygiene, following processes and protocols that have been put in place to decrease contact (e.g. one-way systems), good ventilation, sticking to your bubble, and being mindful of interactions beyond your bubble.  Effective communication between teachers, staff and parents, and between the schools and the testing services is also incredibly important.