There have been conflicting reports on the spread of coronavirus between children. The chance of catching it (susceptibility) and the chance of passing it on (transmission). Some say that young people are less likely to become infected, while others report they’re just as likely to pass it on.  Frequently the chance of developing symptoms or the disease is confused with the chance of passing on the virus.

Researchers from University College London have reviewed the global literature and found that young people aged less than 20 years are 56% less likely to acquire the virus than adults.

There was less evidence on the transmission of the virus in this review.

It appears that children can catch COVID-19 like anyone else, but are less likely to have been infected or play an active role in transmission. Hygiene and physical distancing measures remain essential for everyone.

Where did the story come from?

The Guardian reports that children were half as likely to catch the virus and were the ‘safest group’ to be out in the community. This follows the preliminary findings of a systematic review by researchers from University College London that is currently awaiting peer-review and publication.

What is the basis for the claim?

The systematic review aimed to summarise what is understood about susceptibility and transmission of COVID-19 among children.  Researchers reviewed over 6000 publications and included data from 18 contact-tracing and population screening studies. Lead author and Professor of Child Health, Russell Viner, reports that young people aged under 18-20 are 56% less likely to contract COVID-19 than adults over this age and as such ‘are likely to play a smaller role in transmitting the virus.’ He suggests the findings may help to inform decision-making around opening schools or reducing lockdown measures.

The ONS reports early findings from a pilot survey that is testing the residents of 10,000 households in England for COVID-19. Testing over two weeks (27th April to 10th May) found no difference in the proportion testing positive in any age group, including those 2 to 19 years, though because of the numbers in each age group being small they were unable to exclude a difference.

It seems likely that children may be less likely to acquire the virus. But, as Professor Viner highlights, the difficulty currently is knowing how likely children are to transmit the infection to others.

What do trusted sources say?

The WHO advises that people of any age group can catch COVID-19. However, children and adolescents are understood to be less likely to get a severe infection. WHO also advises that young people can still transmit the infection to others, even if they have only mild symptoms and do not feel ill themselves.

The same social/physical distancing recommendations and advice to self-isolate if they, or a member of their family, becomes ill is highlighted, apply to young people as for any age group.

Analysis by EIU healthcare, supported by RB



  1. University College London. Children appear half as likely to catch COVID-19 as adults. 22nd May 2020

Reading list

  1. Boast A, Munro A, Goldstein H. An evidence summary of Paediatric COVID-19 literature, Don’t Forget the Bubbles, 2020.
  2. Office for National Statistics. Coronavirus (COVID-19) Infection survey pilot: England, 14th May 2020
  3. Q&A: Adolescents, youth and COVID-19