Are children less susceptible to coronavirus?

As countries look to ease school and play restrictions, what evidence is there that children react differently?

How many children are being infected with Covid-19?

Children represent just a small fraction of confirmed Covid-19 cases, with fewer than 2% of reported infections in China, Italy and the United States being in people under 18 years old and with under-18s accounted for fewer than 2% of hospital admissions with Covid-19 in the UK.

Does this mean children are less susceptible?

There is now a wealth of evidence that children generally experience milder symptoms when they are infected – although there have been rare cases of children becoming seriously ill or even dying. However, it is not yet clear whether they have a lower chance of catching Covid-19. Although fewer children have been picked up in national testing programmes, this could be due to fewer being tested. During the early phase of the epidemic in Europe, adult travellers played a dominant role in seeding infections, which also meant, purely for circumstantial reasons, that children would have played a less significant role in spreading infections.

Studies on this question give a mixed picture. One analysis, in the Lancet Infectious Diseases, of households with confirmed Covid-19 in Shenzhen, China, found that children younger than ten were just as likely as adults to get infected. However, there is other evidence from South Korea, Italy and Iceland suggesting lower infection rates among children. Some of the difference could also be down to differences in social mixing.

Why do children react differently to adults?

For many infectious diseases, there is a U-shaped risk curve, with the youngest and oldest in society being most vulnerable. Covid-19 does not follow this pattern – even toddlers and newborn babies typically only experience mild symptoms. One theory is that children’s lungs might contain fewer of the ACE2 receptors that the virus uses to enter cells. To confirm this, researchers would need to study tissue samples from children. Another possibility is that children’s immune systems respond in a more optimal way to the virus – mounting a strong enough response to get rid of the infection, but without going into overdrive and flooding the body with inflammatory proteins, which are known to sometimes cause problems in adult patients.

Are children invisible transmitters?

Asymptomatic transmission is known to play an important role in the spread of Covid-19 – studies have shown that in general people appear to be at their most infectious in the day or so before symptoms start. This raises the question of whether children are silent spreaders of the virus. A recent German study, which compared the viral load of nearly 4,000 people aged from one to 100 years old, added weight to this idea. It found that regardless of age, people appeared to shed a similar level of virus, suggesting they could be equally infectious. However, a caveat is that the study did not measure real-life transmission in children. As schools reopen and community transmission is tracked closely in some European countries, a clearer answer on this is likely to emerge in the coming months.


Nearly half of all child deaths in Africa stem from hunger, study shows

Almost 60 million children deprived of food despite continent’s economic growth, in what is ‘fundamentally a political problem’

One in three African children are stunted and hunger accounts for almost half of all child deaths across the continent, an Addis Ababa-based thinktank has warned.

In an urgent call for action, a study by the African Child Policy Forum said that nearly 60 million children in Africa do not have enough food despite the continent’s economic growth in recent years.

A child dies every three seconds globally due to food deprivation – 10,000 children every day – but although figures show an improvement in child hunger at a global level, it is getting worse in some parts of Africa, where the problem is largely a question of political will.

Nine out of 10 African children do not meet the criteria for minimum acceptable diet outlined by the World Health Organization, and two out of five don’t eat meals regularly. Liberia, Congo and Chad are at the bottom of the chart when it comes to children aged six to 23 months receiving sufficient and diverse food with a healthy frequency. They are followed by Zimbabwe, Guinea-Bissau, Gambia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

“Child hunger is fundamentally a political problem,” said Assefa Bequele, ACPF’s executive director. “It is the offspring of the unholy alliance of political indifference, unaccountable governance, and economic mismanagement. Persistent and naked though the reality is, it remains a silent tragedy, one that remains largely unacknowledged and tolerated, perhaps because it is a poor man’s problem.”

Bequele added: “It is completely unacceptable that children are still going hungry in Africa in the 21st century. The statistics are truly alarming. Child hunger is driven by extreme poverty, uneven and unequal economic growth, gender inequality and a broken food system. Although Africa now produces more food than ever, it hasn’t resulted in better diets.”

Hunger impairs growth and cognitive development of children, but also hits the economic performance of the country they come from. Child hunger can cost African countries almost 17% of their GDP, according to the report. The continent’s present GDP is estimated to have been reduced by 10% because of stunting alone.

Annually, child hunger costs Ethiopia 16.5% of its GDP. The rate for Rwanda is 11.5%. The report says “for every dollar invested in reducing stunting, there is a return of about $22 (£17) in Chad, $21 in Senegal, and $17 in Niger and Uganda”, and if the investment is made early in the child’s life, the return rates can be even higher: up to $85 in Nigeria, $80 in Sudan and $60 in Kenya.

Image by Charles Nambasi from Pixabay

Africa could have one billion undernourished, malnourished and hungry children and young people by 2050 if current levels continue unabated. More than half of African countries are currently off course to meet targets required in the African regional nutrition strategy (2015-2025). Just nine countries will meet the target of reducing stunting by 40% by 2025.

Mauritius and South Africa are among the states with fewer children suffering from hunger, while Central African Republic and Chad are the worst child-friendly nations, according to ACPF. Child hunger has been in sharp contrast with economic growth seen in countries such as Kenya, which has had a 2% average growth in GDP per capita but also a 2.5% increase in stunting.

Child rights campaigner Graça Machel said at last month’s International Policy Conference on the African Child: “Women and girls, along with children from poor and rural backgrounds, suffer the most from hunger. In some countries, stunting rates are twice as high among rural children as among their urban counterparts.”

Conflict and the climate crisis have exacerbated child hunger in Africa, with three out of four of the continent’s stunted children under the age of five living in countries turned into war zones. In areas experiencing protracted conflicts, the rate of undernourishment in children is about two to three times higher.

In 2017, more than eight million people in Ethiopia, five million in Malawi, four million in Zimbabwe and three million in Kenya were affected by acute food insecurity caused by issues relating to the climate crisis.


Coronavirus: Online child abuse warning during lockdown

Online child abusers are seeking to take advantage of the coronavirus pandemic, international law enforcement agency Europol has warned.

Europol said it had information that “strongly indicates increased online activity by those seeking child abuse material”.

With schools closed and many working from home, children are more likely to be using the internet unsupervised.

The agency also said cyber-criminals are taking advantage of the crisis.

In online forums and boards, child abusers are ”welcoming opportunities to engage with children”, Europol said.

It warned that abusers expect children “to be more vulnerable due to isolation, less supervision and greater online exposure”.

A spokeswoman said the agency could not share which national law enforcement agencies had raised concerns, but described the increase in activity as a “worrying trend”.

Supervision needed

“There are lots of kids at home, off school, and they’re online while their parents are busy working,” said Prof Alan Woodward, a cyber-security expert at the University of Surrey.

“Understand the risk – it’s the very time that these people take advantage of your attention being somewhere else.”

The NSPCC said technology companies also had a “vital job” to do in protecting children from abusers on their platforms – and report suspicious activity to police.

“Worryingly, abusers will see this national health emergency as an opportunity to target children who are spending more time online and may be feeling increasingly lonely or anxious because of the lockdown,” said Andy Burrows, NSPCC Head of Child Safety Online.

“At home it is now more important than ever for parents and carers to be having regular conversations with their children about what they’re doing online, and that they know they can come to you with any worries they may have.”

Phishing emails

The NSPCC’s Net Aware website contains information for parents about different social networks and websites, and how to stay safe online. It has recently added articles about video chat and livestreaming services, and the newly-popular Netflix Party extension.

Europol’s report also warned of the high level of other cyber-crime, including phishing emails that pretend to contain information about the virus in links and attachments which “aim to profit from the global health concern.”

Many of the scams being employed are classic cyber-attacks, with a new coronavirus angle in the way they are presented.

“The psychology they’re using is the same, but some of the classic human responses are heightened at the moment,” Prof Woodward said.

“Fear, doubt, and uncertainty is a classic one to play on.”



Ontario Government Supports Families in Response to COVID-19

Province Providing One-time Financial Assistance During School and Child Care Closures

TORONTO — The Ontario government is offering direct financial support to parents while Ontario schools and child care centres remain closed as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.

The new Support for Families initiative offers a one-time payment of $200 per child 0 to 12 years of age, and $250 for those 0 to 21 years of age with special needs.

The announcement was made today by Premier Doug Ford, Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health, and Stephen Lecce, Minister of Education.

“During this extraordinary time, we’re doing everything we can to support parents to keep everyone safe and ensure our children continue to learn and stay mentally active,” said Premier Ford. “This one-time funding will allow parents to access additional tools for our kids to use while at home and studying remotely. I want to remind everyone to stay at home and only go out if absolutely necessary. It’s the only way we are going to defeat this terrible virus.”

“Our aim during these extraordinarily challenging times is to continue supporting those impacted hardest by the COVID-19 outbreak — Ontario families,” said Minister Lecce. “School and child care closures have disrupted family life a great deal and our government will do whatever it takes to support them and keep them safe. This funding will flow to parents directly, to offer them immediate relief during this difficult time.”

Families can complete a simple online application at Ontario’s Support for Families web page to access this financial support. Parents already receiving Support for Parents payments through direct deposit will be automatically eligible for this financial support and do not need to submit a new application.

“As we reach a critical juncture in our fight against COVID-19, it’s important schools and child care centres remain closed,” said Minister Elliott. “Keeping Ontarians safe is our number one priority and it’s also our duty to help parents who are supporting their children and families during this unprecedented time.”

Through this initiative the government is providing over $300 million in relief to parents across Ontario as part of Ontario’s Action Plan: Responding to COVID-19.

“With schools and child care closed, life has become more difficult for families and they need some extra help,” said Rod Phillips, Minister of Finance. “Ontario’s Action Plan: Responding to COVID-19, includes $7 billion in direct support for people and jobs, and $10 billion in cash flow support for people and businesses. This $17 billion plan includes direct relief for parents when they need it the most.”

Quick Facts

  • Ontario public schools will remain closed to teachers until Friday, May 1, 2020, and to students until Monday, May 4, 2020, to keep Ontario’s students safe from COVID-19. Private schools, licensed child care centres and EarlyON programs will also remain closed until April 13, according to the Declaration of Emergency, which only allows closures to be extended for one 14-day period at a time.
  • On March 22, Ontario announced its effort to support health care and frontline workers with emergency child care services across the province. Frontline workers who make use of these services are also eligible for this one-time payment.
  • The Government reiterated its focus on positive mental health supports for students dealing with the challenges of COVID-19. Premier Ford announced an investment of up to $12 million to deliver online and virtual mental health supports across our province, supporting students, families and frontline workers.
  • Ontario launched the second phase of Learn at Home and Apprendre à la maison, a new online portal that provides resources for families so students can continue their education while schools are closed due to the ongoing COVID-19 situation.
  • Visit Ontario’s website to learn more about how the province continues to protect Ontarians from COVID-19.


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