Counting the cost : COVID-19 school closures in South Africa and its impact on children
CITATION: Spaull, N. & Van der Berg, S. 2020. Counting the cost : COVID-19 school closures in South Africa and its impact on children. South African Journal of Childhood Education, 10(1):a924, doi:10.4102/sajce.v10i1.924.
The original publication is available at https://sajce.co.za
Background: When the new coronavirus rapidly spread across the globe, the impact of the virus on children was still unclear, and closing schools seemed the responsible thing to do. But much has been learnt since about coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and the effects of lockdown and school closures, both in South Africa and internationally. Aim: It shows that the mortality risk of the virus is extremely small for children, even when assuming an extremely pessimistic scenario for total COVID-19 deaths. Setting: We review the evidence at a national level in South Africa using nationally-representative datasets. Methods: This article offers evidence drawn from nationally representative household surveys, school surveys and administrative datasets, as well as research reports. Results: International evidence predominantly shows that children are not important transmitters of this virus, which is different from the case for influenza, for example. We show that there are considerable costs to the lockdown for children. These relate to foregone leaning opportunities, mental health, nutrition and physical health. Conclusion: We show that re-opening the economy whilst keeping schools closed results in many unintended consequences, including that children are at higher risk of being left home alone. Considering all of this, we propose that all children should return to schools, crèches and early childhood development (ECD)centres without any further delay.