Children and their families should not be stigmatised if they test positive for coronavirus, a senior director at the World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned as pupils return to school around the UK.

Parents, who may be worried about being “pariahs in the neighbourhood” if their child is sick and a whole class is sent home, need to understand what system is in place, according to Dr Michael Ryan, executive director of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme.

He said it is “extremely important” that there is no stigma around a child testing positive for Covid-19, pointing out that “anybody can get this disease”.

His comments come as one secondary school in Suffolk closed its doors just days after reopening, while whole classes at two schools in Wales have been told to self-isolate for two weeks following confirmed cases.

Speaking at a WHO briefing, Dr Ryan said: “I think for a lot of parents, it really comes down to understanding from the school authorities and from the health authorities, what’s going to happen if my kid gets sick?

“What’s going to happen if there’s a suspected case in the school, which is very different to a confirmed case, and it’s really important that authorities communicate that clearly and that it’s clearly laid out to parents.”

Reflecting on the concerns of parents, Dr Ryan said: “There’s an element of stigma. People feel fearful.

“If my kid get sick and then the whole class is sent home, does that mean that we’re going to be pariahs in the neighbourhood?

“So people have a lot of concerns that bubble underneath the processes, and the more that schools communicate with parents, and the more that parents understand what’s going to happen if… and the more the public health authorities come in and intervene when there is a confirmed case.

“And it’s very clear that the school doesn’t have to go through this process alone.”

He said it is important that public health authorities work with schools so it is clear immediately when there is a case or a cluster that the public health authorities are explaining to everyone what is going to happen next.

“And it’s extremely important that we don’t see stigma arising from the fact that a child is diagnosed, or confirmed with coronavirus.

“Anybody can get this disease, and anybody can carry this disease, symptomatically or asymptomatically.

“And it is not the fault of a child that they have this disease,” he said.

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