Sweden faced a fair bit of criticism for keeping its schools open throughout the pandemic, but Malta’s Commissioner for Children has now suggested they may have been right all along.
“Sweden was criticised for not closing down its schools but we’re now asking ourselves whether they were wiser than the rest of the world,” Pauline Miceli said on TVAM this morning. “They had more deaths, and that must be taken into consideration, but research now shows that young children are safer because the rate of COVID-19 transmission is lower among them.”
Miceli was referring to a recent study co-led by UCL researchers with found that children under 12-14 years are around 40% less likely than adults to be infected when exposed to someone with COVID-19.
She threw her weight behind the reopening of Maltese schools, which started yesterday, arguing that some parents don’t prioritise education and that some children see schools as a haven to escape from the neglect, domestic violence and other social issues that characterise their households.
“The number of children on Scheme 9 [a benefit scheme for students at risk of poverty] has increased substantially,” she warned.
Miceli also criticised certain independent primary schools for splitting their general timetables between physical and online learning options.
“It seems some schools have lost heart in providing more space for their students and are telling parents that their children will only get to spend two or three days a week at school and the remainder at home in front of a screen,” she said, arguing that physical interaction is crucial to a child’s educational development.
When the pandemic hit Malta last March, Miceli had advocated in favour of “keeping children at home as much as possible” but in a recent interview with MaltaToday, she said this was due to fear and anxiety about a completely new problem.
“People over 55 – including myself – were made to feel more vulnerable than they really were,” she said. “At the time, it felt unsafe even just to go to the grocery down the street. The sensation was that the virus was absolutely everywhere, and the advice we were given was to stay at home.”
“The fear was so great, that most people heeded that advice. In any case, there was nowhere to go… except maybe for a solitary walk by the sea.”
“Shops were closed; restaurants and bars likewise; so even if people wanted to defy the health recommendations, the simple fact was that they couldn’t. So people had no option but to self-isolate… and we now know that this had had a disastrous effect on mental health: not just for adults, or vulnerable categories; but even for children.”
“In time, however, we began seeing what was happening in the rest of the world. We began to realise that – while there naturally still remains the need to be cautious – some of that fear had been exaggerated.”