When I was a boy, staring dreamily out of the classroom window, my teacher would summon me back to sums and spellings with the reprimand: “You’re in another world.” For schoolchildren today, however, those words have taken on a grim, literal significance.
As the adult world vaccinates, or revels in double-jabbed status to scan holiday brochures and look forward to the scrapping of Covid restrictions on July 19, children – who remain overwhelmingly unaffected by the virus – find themselves locked into a nightmare of endless disruption and self-isolation, with untold effects not just on their futures but on their mental and physical health too.
We don’t, and probably won’t, vaccinate many of them. Yet we subject vast numbers of children to routine testing and, when a single positive result comes back (often from kits that America’s Food and Drug Administration considers so unreliable they should be destroyed and placed “in the trash”), entire classes are being sent home. Across the country, sports days are called off, year groups disbanded and education disrupted at the drop of a hat.
While Wembley gears up to receive 60,000 spectators, the school world, run by Gavin Williamson, is experiencing peak pandemonium. Covid-related pupil absence in state schools is currently at its highest rate since schools reopened in March.
At the last count, 246,000 children are missing school in England as a result of Covid – and of those, just 9,000 are confirmed cases. That is more than a quarter of a million students having their rhythms, routines and education smashed once again.
And yet as Prof Sir Andrew Pollard, the director of the Oxford Vaccine Group behind the AstraZeneca jab told me, “children aren’t very much affected [by Covid], so the testing obviously isn’t being done to protect them. So is the testing being done to protect other people?”
The answer is, of course, yes. Mass testing of children is being done to protect us, in the grown-up world, with our jabs and our Wembley games. The prospects and education of children are being sacrificed to benefit their elders, even though hospitalisation rates remain low and we still don’t even know what, if any, significant part children play in the transmission of the virus.
“It’s not like flu,” Prof Pollard confirmed to me, “where children are absolutely key to the severity of the flu season.” Not that we eject whole classes for a single case of flu – which kills more than 10,000 a year on average. At least not yet, anyway.
In the grown-up world, we have been playing with serious stakes: 128,000 people have died and the risk-benefit equation has been stark. Children, on the other hand, have for almost a year and a half had their existence stripped of its key benefits, even though they suffer what borders on no risk at all.
It is a timeline of woe whose consequences many will be suffering for years to come, if not for their whole lives. Last year, theme parks opened before schools and a summer of exam chaos ensued. A year on, despite millions having been vaccinated, the dial has hardly moved.
Originally Appeared Here