'Send children back to school, severe cases of Covid-19 are unlikely' - expert

Prof Shabir Madhi, an infectious diseases expert, was among the panellists in a SA Paediatric Association webinar on Wednesday afternoon.
Prof Shabir Madhi, an infectious diseases expert, was among the panellists in a SA Paediatric Association webinar on Wednesday afternoon.
Image: SAMORN TARAPAN/123rf.com

Two months from now, there will be many more Covid-19 cases than now. Schools will close again by the end of August or September when there is a surge in infections, an expert has said.

“We either open the schools now or we accept that there is not going to be any schooling this year and we can reassess early next year. This is the first time where children are being protected, but we are actually harming children by keeping them back.

“We are punishing them, despite them not being at risk of developing severe illness,” Prof Shabir Madhi, an infectious diseases expert, said.

Madhi was among the panellists at a SA Paediatric Association webinar on Wednesday afternoon.

Other panellists included Dr Fiona Kritzinger, a paediatric pulmonologist at Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital in Cape Town and Dr Moherndran Archary, a paediatric infectious disease specialist at King Edward VIII Hospital in Durban.

Prof Haroon Saloojee, from the department of paediatrics at the University of the Witwatersrand, hosted the panel discussion.  

The topic for the webinar was: Children returning to school — what advice for parents and caregivers?

Madhi said children were often asymptomatic and less likely to develop severe illness. Their immune systems allowed them to control the disease and prevent them from developing severe illness. 

He said he had two children of his own and would send them back to school. 

Madhi said about 70%-80% of children infected with the virus would be asymptomatic. Children were equally likely to get infected, but were less likely to develop severe illness.

 “In children it will be unfortunate if one or two children will be admitted to hospital out of 1,000.

“It is a greater disadvantage to keep children locked up in a home.”

He said there would be continuous disruptions to schooling over the next two years.

“If you are going to keep the school shut now, then you will need to keep it shut until 2021 or 2022 until there is a vaccine available. There is going to a much greater surge in cases, especially in the Western Cape,” he said.

He said if there was risk profiling and if teachers adhered to all the safety regulations in place, they were less likely to be infected at schools.

“They [teachers] wouldn't be at any greater risk of being infected in a school compared to being infected outside a school.

“What reduces your risk of being infected is not where you are, but what your behaviour is. Your behaviour determines your risk."

He said now was as good a time as any to send kids to school.


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