Expert calls to extend winter school holidays to ease flu crisis

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Around one in 10 children suffer a respiratory virus at any one time in the darkest months.

But adding a week to the start of the festive holidays would help shorten the cycle of millions off class and allow youngsters to recover before seeing vulnerable relatives.

Prof Carl Heneghan, director of the Centre for Evidence Based Medicine at Oxford University, said: “When it gets dark and cold, we predictably see a spike in viruses which spread more easily as people spend more time together indoors. If children could finish the term one week earlier it could help as it would reduce the number of infections being passed on.”

Health leaders have repeatedly warned that this season is likely to be the worst on record for A&E waiting times as Covid, flu and Strep A spread.

And yesterday 31 ambulances were waiting to transfer patients inside Royal Stoke University Hospital alone.

Admissions across all hospitals for flu jumped to 3,746 last week – up from 520 at the end of November. At the same time, nine in 10 hospital beds were full compared to 86 percent a year earlier.

In response to Prof Heneghan’s suggestion, a Government spokesman pointed out school holidays are determined locally by authorities.

It came after the Department of Health said people travelling on direct flights from China must provide a negative Covid test before travelling from Thursday.

Experts are divided over whether Beijing’s complete lifting of restrictions next Sunday could lead to new dangerous variants. But Tory MP Steve Brine said: “This wouldn’t be happening if China was up front and shared its data.”

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