The report that eight children are now in hospital being treated for Covid-19 is cause for alarm and for giving top priority to the protection of children.
As the age group for whom no vaccine is as yet approved in this country, children under 12 are completely reliant on the adults around them to do the right thing in keeping them safe. Sadly, judging from the many displays of adult carelessness and disrespect for Covid-19 protocols, that hope may be misplaced.
At yesterday’s update, Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh confirmed that additional hospital capacity has been created for children. However, we urge the ministry to be proactive in its messages for parents and others, especially with the now surging and highly transmissible Omicron variant.
This situation is likely to become more dire in the coming weeks as thousands of parents return to their public sector jobs and have to depend on others to babysit and supervise their children.
One objective of the messaging should be to completely dispel the initial notion that children are generally immune from Covid-19. While that assumption has long been thrown out of the window with the increase in cases among children, fuelled by new variants, the assumption has not been fully dislodged. Parents must become more alert to the many avenues through which their children can be exposed to risk, and know how to enforce Covid safety rules.
It is worth remembering that many children do not have personal agency with the power to say no to adults who often feel entitled to impose their will on them.
During yesterday’s update, Chief Epidemiologist Dr Avery Hinds noted that the number of cases of the Omicron variant was on the increase, and that it is expected to displace the Delta variant in a matter of weeks. While Omicron produces comparatively milder symptoms than Delta, its high rate of transmission is making many more people sick enough to require hospitalisation, including at ICU level.
One consequence of this in countries that are now being walloped by Omicron is a significant increase in the number of children needing hospital-level care. In the United States, for example, where over half a million new cases are being recorded on a daily basis, paediatric Covid-19 hospitalisations have risen to record levels. Some states are reporting a doubling and trebling of the number of children being hospitalised, a substantial number of whom are under five years of age. Among the conditions for which they are being treated are viral pneumonia and respiratory distress caused by serious lung infection.
Since children under 12 cannot access any Covid-19 vaccine in this country, the health and lives of all of them depend almost completely on whether the adults around them institute and enforce protective measures and communicate the dangers to them effectively. Covid has brought much grief, but there could be no more tragic sight than a child fighting for life.