Does it strike anyone else as inexplicable that suddenly adults can mix in pubs and nightclubs with no masks, social distancing, Covid passes, contact tracing or any other Covid precautions – but children are still spending their schooldays under so-called “protective” measures?
A short press release from the Department of Education on 21 January 2022 says: “Following the government announcement today, schools will continue to operate with their COVID-19 plans, with all current protective measures in place, until 28 February 2022.”
These restrictions are not harmless.
Some children are sitting in cold classrooms, choosing whether to hamper their writing with gloves on or leave their hands cold. Masks make it more difficult for children to communicate and that particularly impacts on some who have hearing problems and depend on lip-reading, or children with autism for whom interpreting social and emotional signals comes less naturally, etc.
And the social impact of things like longterm general anxiety due to life being dominated by the threat of an unseen virus, and the feeling that just being near another human being is a dangerous thing, cannot be underestimated.
The Minister for Health has said that he is aware of the impact that Covid-19 restrictions have on people’s lives and that they should only remain in place when there is a public health rationale for them.
However, no public health rationale is offered by the press release for continued restrictions for children but not adults.
The only explanation (of sorts) that I have seen is what RTE reported from the Taoiseach’s update. “These [Covid policies in schools] will be reviewed before the end of February, by which time all children aged between 5 and 11 will have had the opportunity to be fully vaccinated,” he said.
Secondary school pupils have had that opportunity since August 2021, so I don’t see any logic in how the Taoiseach’s comment explains the decision to continue restrictions for them. If he thinks two months is enough opportunity for 5-11 age group, how is over 5 months already not enough opportunity for pupils age 12 and older?
It’s quite possible vaccination rates at secondary school age won’t be much higher than the current 80% by the end of February. If that’s the case, are we going to be told again that they still haven’t had enough “opportunity” to get vaccinated, so they should keep wearing masks and sitting with windows open until they do?
As for younger children, meanwhile, parents thinking about having 5–11-year-olds vaccinated might reasonably ask how Omicron affects this age group. Up to recently we had no information about how many children have been hospitalised in Ireland with Covid since before Christmas, over four weeks previously.
However on 24 January, the HSPC updated their statistics of hospitalisations with Covid broken down by age. Children age 5-12 continued to be the least likely age group to be hospitalised with a positive test for Covid (in spite of most of them being unvaccinated, with just 15% partly vaccinated between late December 2021 and late January 2022).
My first chart here from analysing the HPSC table shows hospitalisation rates for Covid cases in several age groups up to 65 – for children aged between 5-12, one in one thousand cases (0.1%) was hospitalised, or 12 children in 1 week. Because case numbers depend partly on testing and reporting policies and other factors, in the second graph I analysed the proportion of each age group hospitalised with Covid based on census data; again primary school age children were clearly the lowest risk group.
The Irish Independent apparently either weren’t aware of the updated statistics or didn’t think it worth mentioning when they published a piece on 27 January headlined “Number of infected children under age of 12 up by 4,500 in just one week”.
Parents might also have appreciated being informed either then or later – since many of them may not have time to look up the HPSC website and scroll down to page 20 of a 31 page report – that recent data were showing 99.9% of children aged 5-12 who tested positive for Covid did not need hospital treatment.
Those 12 children who did, would include an unknown proportion of children with underlying conditions and those hospitalised for non-Covid reasons (generally, half of those hospitalised in Ireland “with Covid” in early January were not there because of the virus). So it’s very likely the threat from the current Omicron variant to healthy children is even lower than the HPSC table reflects.
Which brings me back to the primary question: why are “protective measures” scrapped for adults but kept for the age group that least needs such “protection”?
When all this is said and done, it seems 2 + 2 = 5 with the current situation of continued Covid restrictions in schools. And we’re supposed to be following the science?