School gates around the world slammed shut. By early April, an astonishing 1.5 billion young people were staying home as part of broader shutdowns to protect people from the novel coronavirus. The drastic measures worked in many places, dramatically slowing the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
However, as weeks turned into months, paediatricians and educators began to voice concern that school closures were doing more harm than good, especially as evidence mounted that children rarely develop severe symptoms from COVID-19.
Continued closures risk “scarring the life chances of a generation of young people,” according to an open letter published last month and signed by more than 1500 members of the United Kingdom’s Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH). Virtual education is often a pale shadow of the real thing and left many parents juggling jobs and childcare. Lower-income children who depend on school meals were going hungry. And there were hints that children were suffering increased abuse, now that school staff could no longer spot and report early signs of it. It was time, a growing chorus said, to bring children back to school.
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