School closures are not evidence-based and harm children

March 2021

An editorial by Sarah J. Lewis, Alasdair P.S. Munro, George Davey Smith and Allyson M. Pollock entitled »Closing schools is not evidence-based and harms children« was published in the British Medical Journal on 24 February 2021.

It states, among other things: 

Some 8.8 million school children in the UK have experienced severe disruption to their education as a result of two consecutive years of prolonged school closures and failed national examinations. School closures were introduced internationally with insufficient evidence of their role in minimising COVID-19 transmission and insufficient consideration of the harm to children.

For some children, education is the only route out of poverty; for others, school provides a safe haven away from a dangerous or chaotic home life. Learning deficits, reduced social interaction, isolation, reduced physical activity, increased mental health problems and the potential for increased abuse, exploitation and neglect have been linked to school closures. Lower future income and life expectancy are also associated with less education. Children with special educational needs or children who are already disadvantaged are at increased risk. The Children's Commissioner for England's 2019 report estimates that 2.3 million children in England in unsafe home environments face violence, drug or alcohol abuse or severe mental health problems from their parents. These long-term harmful influences are likely to be magnified by further school closures.

The overall risk to children and adolescents from COVID-19 is very low, and hyperinflammatory syndrome is extremely rare. Studies are underway to examine the impact of post-Covid syndrome in children.

Although school closures reduce the number of contacts of children, potentially reducing transmission, a study of 12 million adults in the UK in households with or without children found no difference in the risk of dying from COVID-19. Only 3% of those over 65 live with children.

Learning at school increases teachers' exposure and one might expect their risk of becoming infected to increase, but accumulating evidence shows that teachers and school staff are not at higher risk of hospitalisation or death from COVID-19 compared to other workers. Teacher absenteeism due to confirmed COVID-19 illness was similar in primary and secondary schools in England during the autumn term, although secondary school pupils have a much higher rate of SARS-CoV-2 infection. In addition, teacher absenteeism decreased in regions with tighter restrictions (»Tier 3«) during the November closure, although schools remained open.

The original editorial can be accessed here. 

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