Microbiologist calls for increased coronavirus testing of the under 12s

The Antwerp University microbiologist Herman Goossens has said in an interview with VRT News that he believes that children should be tested more for coronavirus than is currently the case. Professor Goossens made his call just two days before pupils return to school for the start of the spring term. “The testing capacity is in place and as regards symptoms among children you don’t notice any difference between a coronavirus infection and any other viral infection", the microbiologist said. 

Professor Goossens believes that it is crucial that schools remain open. However, this also means that children will need to be tested for coronavirus more often.

"We need to closely follow the number of infections. Up until now there is no evidence that the British stain is widespread here, but you can’t rule out that it is in circulation. When you look at England you see that infections are shifting towards younger age groups. This gives me cause for concern because it can all happen very quickly”.

Herman Goossens won’t be drawn on whether children are the motor behind the spread of the virus. "There is still discussion on their role in spreading the virus. I believe that it is still very limited, but perhaps I am mistaken. But if it transpires that children do play an important role in spreading the virus, we will also have to test children and follow up once they’ve been tested. Whatever happens it is important that children can continue to go to school.”

Professor Goossens added that currently we wait too long before testing children. "It is common knowledge that young children often have colds and for them the symptoms and complaints relating to a cold are the same as for coronavirus. So, we must certainly also test children if they have slight symptoms. We have enough test capacity to do this, we have everything in place, and we can manage it. Because we need to know the extent of the virus’ presence in our society. People with mild complaints, be they children or adults, ought to get tested.

The microbiologist believes that the best scenario would be that all children are tested.

"But certainly, those between the ages of 6 and 12. This group could be tested very easily using a throat swab. We have the capacity to be able to this”. 

Rapid testing in schools?

Professor Goossens believes that a pilot project using rapid corona tests could in time prove useful for schools.

"It all depends on the results, but I am pleased about the pilot project and curious to find out its results. Rapid testing is simple so maybe the system could be rolled out more widely”.

He also doesn’t dismiss a call from the socialist trade union ACOD to require pupils in the 5 and 6 year of primary school to wear masks. "If this helps to keep schools open, and this is very important both for parents and for our country’s economy, then we should do it”.  

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