SA paediatricians urge government to reopen schools and they have the evidence to back it up

A pupil's temperature is checked on returning to school in Johannesburg. File picture: Denis Farrell/AP

A pupil's temperature is checked on returning to school in Johannesburg. File picture: Denis Farrell/AP

Published Aug 6, 2020


As Grade 12 learners returned to school this week, many parents are contemplating whether to send their children back when classes continue from August 17 for the remaining grades.

In response to the staggered approach to learners returning to school, the Paediatrician Management Group (PMG) and the South African Paediatric Association (SAPA) have urged government to open schools to all learners and not to allow fear or politics to harm the children of South Africa.

Speaking out against government’s decision to close public schools again, local paediatricians have now said that the decision is not based on scientific evidence, and the benefits to children of attending school outweigh the risks to both children and the broader community.

As part of their evidence-based research, local paediatric doctors referred to a Covid-19 modelling study done in the UK which was based on the previous H1N1 epidemic and the SARS outbreak. The study predicted that school closures alone would possibly prevent only two to four percent of deaths - much lower than the effect of other social distancing interventions.

“Those school communities which are at risk, either due to high local transmission rates or poor infrastructure, should be identified and supported immediately to mitigate their risks so that they can reopen as soon as possible,” said paediatricians.

“Where schools are unable to reopen, the Department of Basic Education (DBE) must still ensure that all learners continue to have adequate academic material via radio, television, cell phone applications and all other means necessary. Educators must be held accountable for providing ongoing academic support and material at all times."

Spokesperson Dr Fiona Kritzinger, a paediatric pulmonologist at the Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital in Cape Town, said children aged 0-18 in South Africa account for only five percent of Covid-19 cases.

“Children and young people have a lower susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2, with 56 percent lower odds of being an infected contact,” said Dr Kritzinger.

A recent media statement released by the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) confirmed that only 0.1 percent of all learners who had returned to school tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 and no deaths of learners were reported to the WCED.

Kritzinger said that although this percentage is affected by the current Western Cape testing strategy, “it is nonetheless reassuring that the reopening of schools has not resulted in any significant outbreaks at a population level”.