By C. ben-David
I have already commented on the mass hysteria in our country created by COVID-19, a debilitating mental compulsion which has seen the closure of our schools for much of the past 12 months beginning with a tiny initial outbreak of this virus long before the first fatality, on Jan. 15, of “… a 49-year-old female with multiple pre-existing conditions” almost a year later.
As far as I can tell, this was not based on sound – i.e., scientifically-based — contagious disease grounds, apart from coronavirus being a contagious disease, a feature it shares with dozens of other dangerous and often lethal contagious diseases like leprosy, tuberculosis, polio, influenza (flu), and various sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV/AIDS that have afflicted us during various times in our history.
There is also no evidence that critical service sectors of whole societies were forcibly shuttered or drastically reduced in capacity for a whole year in response to previous epidemics including prohibiting students from obtaining essential in-class education.
This is not to imply that quarantining infected people has not been a standard practice for dealing with contagious diseases for centuries. Bacterial plague pandemics hit the world in three waves from the 1300s to the 1900s killing millions of people. The first wave from 1347 to 1351 called “the Black Death” in Europe wiped out an estimated one- to two -thirds of the population totalling at least 25 million people. The death rate among those infected was an astounding 60–90%.
Nevertheless, public health efforts to control the plague such as medical inspections, isolation of sick people in special hospitals, obliging ships coming from other countries to endure long harbour quarantines, and other restrictions over the movement of people certainly did not come anywhere near current draconian COVID-19 measures despite the fact that the extent of bubonic plague epidemics make COVID-19 pale to insignificance.
This historical context is necessary to understand the way our government is dealing with the issue of school closures.
According to Minister of Education St. Clair “Jimmy” Prince, as reported by iWitness News on April 8 last year, “… a consultation was held with various stakeholders, including the Teachers’ Union, the Ministry of Health officials, the principals’ associations and other entities … where is was mutually agreed that the opening of school on the scheduled date of April 14 would not be in the best interest of our country in the midst of this global pandemic at this time.”
“At this time” meant that there were eight active cases of COVID-19, no hospitalisations, and no deaths by April 14, 2020.
The larger contemporary context of this hysterical and unnecessary closure is that SVG was simply doing what many other countries were doing: playing the game of inflammatory politically grandstanding by employing the media, the teachers’ unions, the education bureaucrats, the medical professionals, and “other entities” in an ostentatious but wasteful effort to protect young people from being infected by a virus that early research suggested would do nearly all them and their families little or no harm.
Many countries overcame their hysteria after a few months (see reference below). Our own hysteria has only become entrenched.
Judging from the Facebook comments critiquing my previous call to reopen our schools, the propaganda campaign has successfully terrorised much of our science-challenged cohort of mothers of school-aged children.
Some posters commented that the Province of Ontario, Canada, have closed their schools because of the occurrence of coronavirus outbreaks, failing to mention that these same schools reopened as soon as the threat passed. Canada (population 38.44 million) as a whole has suffered far more per capita virus infections and death – 2.3% and 0.06%, respectively — than SVG (population 111,200) – 1.5% and 0.007%, respectively, but reopened most of its schools months ago.
Moreover, the SVG death rate from coronavirus is one of the lowest in the world despite the aversion of many of our people with either a high risk tolerance or a good understanding of the low probability that this virus is any more dangerous to young, healthy people than the seasonal flu to mask wearing, physical distancing, and congregating in large groups in both public and private spaces.
All across the globe, schools have only been closed in countries or parts of countries for the past 12 months where unscientific and anti-scientific paranoia about the effects of COVID-19 on young people have ruled supreme or, as in the United States, where the powerful teachers’ unions have neutered state and local officials based on massive contributions to their election campaigns in the process proving that the assumption that most teachers love teaching is a myth.
No such organised labour constraint exists in SVG where the schools and the teachers’ union are under the wing, if not foot, of the prime minister.
This makes it even more troubling that our leaders have deliberately or ignorantly ignored that there is a large and growing body of research published in leading medical and science journals that have clearly shown that keeping schools either open or closed has had a negligible effect on infecting children or spreading COVID-19 to the larger community. This literature also shows that closing schools makes children far worse off than keeping them open.
In Sweden, for example, “[A] decision to keep schools open during the pandemic resulted in no higher rate of infection among its schoolchildren than in neighbouring Finland, where schools did temporarily close, their public health agencies said in a joint report.”
A follow up study months later published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine found that, “Despite Sweden’s having kept schools and preschools open, we found a low incidence of severe Covid-19 among schoolchildren and children of preschool age during the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. Among the 1.95 million children who were 1 to 16 years of age, 15 children had Covid-19, MIS-C, or both conditions and were admitted to an ICU, which is equal to 1 child in 130,000 [but no deaths].”
When the influential journal Science, “… looked at reopening strategies from South Africa to Finland to Israel, some encouraging patterns emerged. Together, they suggest a combination of keeping student groups small and requiring masks and some social distancing helps keep schools and communities safe, and that younger children rarely spread the virus to one another or bring it home.”
As for the actual harm caused to children, an article in the British Medical Journal titled “Closing schools is not evidence based and harms children” showed that, “Some 8.8 million schoolchildren in the UK have experienced severe disruption to their education, with prolonged school closures and national exams cancelled for two consecutive years. School closures have been implemented internationally with insufficient evidence for their role in minimising covid-19 transmission and insufficient consideration of the harms to children.”
Finally, UNICEF, a respected United Nations organisation, last week called for the reopening of schools across the world because, “School closures have devastating consequences for children’s learning and wellbeing,” as I also outlined in my last piece.
“The[ir] analysis on school closures report notes that 14 countries worldwide have remained largely closed since March 2020 to February 2021. Two-thirds of those countries are in Latin America and the Caribbean, affecting nearly 98 million schoolchildren.”
Most schools in most countries have opened months ago. Not so in the English-speaking Caribbean, one of whose states is our very own SVG, a nation for which there is not a scintilla of scientific evidence that school closures have done anything other than harm the lives and futures of our precious children.
Prime Minister Gonsalves, please open our schools so this carnage can stop.
The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the opinions or editorial position of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected].