Children under 10 should return to school first, says Stellenbosch University researcher

CAPE TOWN – With the debate on whether schools should reopen, if so, who should go back first still on the rise, Stellenbosch University’s (SU) Dr Nic Spaull joins in arguing that by allowing the youngest children to go back first teachers and parents will be at a lower risk.

Spaull is senior researcher at the Research on Socioeconomic Policy (RESEP) group at SU.

The Department of Basic Education is yet to give final dates for the reopening of schools, however, it did announce plans to open schools from 1 June 2020, starting with Grade 7 and Grade 12 pupils.

According to Spaull, at the same time that Grade 12 goes back, Grades R, 1, 2 and 3 should be allowed to return, rather than Grade 7s, using a phased-in approach with special precautions for teachers.

“Children aged 0-10 years old are considerably less likely than adults to get infected, either from each other or from adults. They are less likely to transmit the virus, even when they are infected and it is extremely rare for them to get severely ill or die from Covid-19,” he said.

According to his research, he suggests that there should be close monitoring of infection rates among a random sample of teachers and families of Grade R-3 children.

“Such an approach would minimize the risk to learners and teachers and also allows many parents to go back to work.  In addition, to the fact that children 10 years and younger are considerably less likely to get infected, they also present the highest child-care burden to their households and prevents many parents and caregivers from going back to work and earning an income to support their families,” he said.

Spaull cited evidence emerging from countries around the world.

He referenced figures released by OurWorldinData.org, which indicate that the fatality rates from Covid-19 by age group for China, Italy, Spain and South Korea show a “0percent” fatality rate for the 0-9-year-old category and 0.3percent for those less than 40 years of age.

“Research emerging across all countries seems to be highly consistent. In brief, children are less likely to get infected, either from each other or from adults, and they are less likely to transmit even where they are infected,” says Spaull.

He said statistics in South Africa indicated that as of May 2 there had not been a death recorded for persons under 20 years. While only 0,3percent of children aged 0-10 and 4percent aged 11-20. had been tested positive with the virus.

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