COVID-19: Have we forgotten our children in all this?

May 14, 2020

Carl Heneghan, Tom Jefferson


UNESCO has produced a report on the  COVID-19 Educational Disruption and Response. The main points are:

‘Most governments around the world have temporarily closed educational institutions in an attempt to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.’

‘These nationwide closures are impacting almost 70% of the world’s student population.’ 

That’s 1,214,075,186 affected learners.

More than 190 countries have closed schools for over two months  – 90% of the world’s student population. 

School closures occurred rapidly, however, when it comes to their reopening, many countries are undecided on when, and how, and with a considerable degree of uncertainty on the way forward. 

According to UNESCO: ‘100 countries have not yet announced a date for schools to reopen, 65 have plans for partial or full reopening, while 32 will end the academic year online.’

In a pandemic, the proportion of deaths among the young should increase, but this has not been the case.  A review of 72,314 cases in China showed less than 1% were in children younger than 10. Out of 16,749 hospital admissions in the UK, only 239 patients (2.0%) were under 18 years and 139 patients (1.1%) were under 5 years old. In Italy, three deaths have been recorded in the age group 0- to 19 years. In under 45-year olds, ONS data in England and Wales reveals that 384 (1.2%) deaths have occurred out of 33,365 COVID cases with   only two deaths in under 14-year-olds.

From March to mid-April this year, nine students and nine staff from 15 New South Wales Schools in Australia had confirmed COVID-19.  735 students and 128 staff were in close contacts – no teacher or staff contracted COVID-19 and only one primary and one high school child may have contracted COVID-19.

A French study that identified secondary cases linked to the index case reported  that one symptomatic child, visited three different schools but did not transmit the disease despite close interactions.

The risks of COVID transmission in children are low. Going forward, we will badly need their future knowledge. Children’s education and their wellbeing is –  and should be – a priority. Prolonged lockdown of schools penalises an entire global cohort. It incentivises excessive reliance on electronic means of communication and a sedentary lifestyle.  

UNESCO: Reopening schools: When, where and how?

Italian translation COVID-19 Italian

Update: 

See also Children are not COVID-19 super spreaders: time to go back to school
 
A UNICEF report also describes millions of childhood deaths from preventable causes due to kids not being able to access care – see NYTimes article May 14 Millions of children are at risk of dying, the United Nations said on Wednesday, not of Covid-19, but of preventable causes. Unable to get care at hospitals that are straining to fight the virus, more than a million children aged 5 or younger will die every six months, UNICEF said in a report.’
 
Acknowledgements:
thanks to Peter Doshi for the updates

Conflicts of Interest:
Both  TJ and CH have children and are concerned about their future 

Tom Jefferson is a senior associate tutor and honorary research fellow, Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine, University of Oxford. (Disclosure statement here)

Carl Heneghan is Professor of Evidence-Based Medicine, Director of the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine and Director of Studies for the Evidence-Based Health Care Programme. (Full bio and disclosure statement here)

Disclaimer:  the article has not been peer-reviewed and the sources cited should be checked. The views expressed in this commentary represent the views of the authors and not necessarily those of the host institution, the NHS, the NIHR, or the Department of Health. The views are not a substitute for professional medical advice.