Experts said previous generations had dealt with issue by allowing youngsters to pick up infections when they were less dangerous

A pupil from Harris Academy Primary School in Croydon has her temperature checked on arrival Credit: Jeremy Selwyn

Schoolchildren under the age of 15 are more likely to be hit by lightning than die from coronavirus, new figures suggest, amid mounting pressure on the Government to get more to get pupils back into classrooms as quickly as possible.

Scientists from the universities of Cambridge and Oxford have called for "rational debate" based on the "tiny" risk to children, suggesting that if no vaccine is found in future it may be better for younger people to continue with their lives while the more vulnerable are shielded.

It comes as the Government was accused of "losing the plot" after Gavin Williamson, the Education Secretary, scrapped the target of getting all primary school pupils back in the classroom before the summer holidays.

Mr Williamson told the Commons that the Government would instead like to see schools which "have the capacity" bring back more pupils where possible before the summer break.

Plans to get students back into classrooms in September were also thrown into further doubt after Downing Street said secondary schools were expected to open to "more pupils", rather than all pupils, in the autumn.

MPs and peers, including former Education Secretaries, demanded to know why the Government appeared to be focused on getting non-essential shops open rather than prioritising opening schools for more primary and secondary school children.

Analysis by Cambridge University, using latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) data, shows that that the risk to children from coronavirus is staggeringly small.

Currently, the death rate for five to 14-year-olds in England and Wales is just one in 3.5 million. For under-fives, it is one in 1.17 million.

The Telegraph has found that children are far more likely to be hit by lightning. According to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (Rospa), between 30 and 60 people are struck by lightning in Britain each year, a population risk of between one in 2.21 million and one in 1.1 million annually.

Speaking at a briefing on the new ONS data, Prof Sir David Spiegelhalter, the chairman of the Winton Centre for Risk at Cambridge University, argued that the risk to children was "tiny" and said previous generations had dealt with the issue by allowing youngsters to pick up infections when they were less dangerous.

"In school kids aged five to 14 it’s not only a tiny risk, it’s a tiny proportion of the normal risk," said Sir David, who is a member of the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage).

"I remember the pre-vaccination era and I was sent round to play with friends with measles, mumps and chickenpox. I’m not suggesting this is the public health solution to this, but if no vaccines come along you might be thinking that.

"If, years in future, we don’t have a vaccine then we might have to think about how to protect those age groups most at risk while younger people can continue with their lives. I don’t think that will ever involve encouraging people to get infected."

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