Morally repugnant restrictions on children continue

Why are schools not back to full normality?

Fresh from jet-setting in to Cornwall for the G7 and ignoring the rules imposed on mere mortals, the government has inexplicably put in place legislation to exempt UEFA officials from travel restrictions. Racegoers at Ascot were pictured having a cracking time  — there were some obligatory photos of people arriving in face masks but as the day wore on most seemed to have taken them off and there was no sign of much social distancing despite government advice to the contrary for those tested or vaccinated. Likewise football fans have been quite freely celebrating both within football stadia and various London landmarks.

At the same time, school heads have spent the weekend digesting a devastating update from the Department of Education that implies substantial ongoing restrictions over the course of the next few months. This only compounds the misery of ongoing isolation of whole year groups due to positive tests, even when symptoms are non-existant or very mild. And this scaremongering is resulting in ridiculous outcomes — we are aware of a school in the North of England that has taken it upon itself to close and declare a unilateral ‘circuit breaker’ due to lots of positive tests. Why have we forgotten that a positive test result is not a case and alone does not make a clinical diagnosis. Is this now going to happen every time children pass a sniffle round?

Picking on the weakest and smallest used to be called bullying. Now it seems to be the HM Government’s first recourse — not only to blame the children, but also to take it out on them. Apart from this being shocking hypocrisy, not enough people seem to be asking: what is the precise point of these restrictions?

The risk to healthy children from COVID-19 is essentially zero, so these restrictions are certainly not in children’s best interests. We also know that the role of children in transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in school settings is limited, and, as the British Medical Journal discusses, once most adults are vaccinated, circulation of SARS-CoV-2 may in fact be desirable, as it is likely to lead to primary infection early in life when disease is mild and the young immune system is in ‘learning mode’. To paraphrase: to add to Whitty’s wall of vaccinated people, society should be welcoming an additional wall of immune young people.

Endemic viruses circulate freely. Their presence in populations waxes and wanes. This is normal. We ought not to fear the spread of endemic viruses in the summer, especially in those who are at very little risk of suffering severe illness as a result; this will serve to increase the strength of the ‘naturally immune’ wall to reduce the likelihood of an epidemic outbreak in the winter. This is not new — the four ‘other’ coronaviruses that mankind has co-existed with for centuries have seasonal prevalence. Consider this data from Edinburgh from 2006-2019: “Coronaviruses were detected in…samples in all age groups.…A total of 11% to 41% of coronaviruses detected were in samples testing positive for other respiratory viruses”. Essentially identical behaviour was observed in the USA between 2014-2017.

A society that fails to invest in its youngsters is surely doomed to failure. How do children benefit from having nonsensical restrictions imposed on them that are based on non-scientific — and patently absurd — orthodoxy? 

The current status quo is untenable and indefensible. By demonising cases — either asymptomatic or with mild symptoms — we are ruining children’s lives, and causing huge distress both to them and their families. Enough is enough — it is morally repugnant and downright irrational to continue imposing these ludicrous and unscientific restrictions on children.

It is extremely worrying to hear the Education Minister that he “very much expects” disruption to exams to continue for years. It is time to open up and consign these restrictions on children to the scrapheap, never to be repeated. 

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