Civil rights group DearSA has called on the government to reopen schools for all children under the age of 10 next month. The proposed date for the gradual return of learners (Grade 7 and 12 only) is 1 June 2020.
Based on the evidence now emerging after several weeks on collating data on Covid-19 cases, DearSA said keeping children under the age of 10 at home serves no purpose in slowing the spread of the virus, and urged the minister to reopen schools for those in this age bracket on 1 June 2020.
Writing on behalf of DearSA, Daniel Eloff of law firm Hurter Spies Incorporated, said it supports the government’s campaign to curtail the spread of the virus but has urged it to follow a data-driven approach to decision-making over lockdown regulations. With the passage of time, more data has come to light calling into question the severity of the current Alert Level 4 lockdown, particularly on children of school-going age.
Citing research from the Actuarial Society of SA, DearSA pointed out that children aged 19 and below have a minuscule chance of contracting the virus. Only 0,4 percent of all cases showing symptoms that require hospitalization are drawn from the 0 to 19 age bracket in SA. For children up to the age of nine, the percentage of symptomatic cases requiring hospitalization falls to 0,1 percent of the total.
Dear SA has sent a letter to the Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga, citing the following:
• Lockdown measures cannot stop the virus from spreading, but they can slow down the speed of infections.
• Lockdown measures will not save the lives of those who contract Covid-19 and do not require hospitalization. They also do not save the lives of those who contract the virus and would sadly and regrettably succumb to the disease, even if they gained access to an ICU bed.
Multi-country studies further show that children are at extremely low risk of infection relative to adults. Joint research by Chinese medical authorities and the World Health Organization shows negligible instances of child-to-parent transmission.
• It is vitally important that children be allowed back to school on 1 June 2020, as various studies have shown the importance of early learning for later-life development.
• The Lancet Early Childhood Development Series emphasizes the importance of the first five years of a child’s life. These are the formative years where “factors such as adequate healthcare, good nutrition, good quality childcare and nurturing, a clean and safe environment, early learning and stimulation will, to a large extent, influence his/ her future as an adult”.
• The closure of schools has placed strain on families and by allowing schools to reopen, this would have the added benefit of freeing up essential workers forced to remain home to care for their own children.