14ymedio, Havana, 14 January 2021 — Alarmed by the latest data, the authorities have decided to draw attention to cases of coronavirus in children. This Wednesday a daily record of 74 infected children under 20 years of age was reached, more than 13% of the 550 total infections of this day. In addition, an infant just one month old is in serious condition and there are four other children in the same condition.
The data has raised the tensions between the population and the rulers, although the proportion of children, with respect to the total number of infected, does not differ from the usual percentages of the Island, located around 10% or 12%. It is also consistent with figures from the World Health Organization, which estimates a 1.2% share for children under four years of age; 2.5% up to 14 years; and 9.6% between 15 and 24 years. The number of affected children grows as the total grows.
“Few things are as disturbing to people as the the notion of children in danger,” says Cubadebate in a special, this Thursday, dedicated to warning about the problems of coronavirus infections in children.
“Although they generally do not get seriously ill, they do constitute a serious element of transmission within their home or community, where they live with people of greater vulnerability, and who may have more serious infections,” says Lisette del Rosario López González, head of the National Pediatric Group and member of the Covid-19 Expert Group of the Ministry of Health.
In Cuba, from the detection of the first coronavirus case until today, 1,674 minors have been infected, of which 263 are currently hospitalized. Fortunately, the recovery rate is high and none have died.
Since the appearance of the first cases of coronavirus in the world, scientists have been preparing to investigate the incidence and evolution of the disease in minors.
In March, most countries suspended classes assuming that classrooms could be an epicenter of the spread of COVID-19 since children, who are likely to have the disease in a milder way or without symptoms, could transmit it more effectively. In addition, it was estimated that due to their young age they tended to be less aware of the essential safety measures: physical distance and hand washing.
Studies so far have explained why children are, a priori, better prepared to cope with the disease. The key seems to be in a well-trained immune system that makes antibodies with ease. Research published in Nature on 32 adults and 47 children under 18 years of age concluded that children produce antibodies specifically targeting the proteins in the spicules of the coronavirus that allow infection and viral replication.
Another article, in Science, determines that, for reasons still unknown, children have fewer ACE2 receptors, a human protein that facilitates the entry of the virus into the body and multiplies it.
Knowing that minors do not usually develop serious forms of the disease, science also explord the super contagious effect that was attributed to them. So far, it has not been found to exist. “Infections and outbreaks were rare in educational settings after they reopened after the summer holidays,” according to research published in the prestigious British journal The Lancet.
In Germany, a host of studies have already been published that dissociate the fact that classrooms are a worrying source of contagion. The last one, in December, carried out by the German Academy of Natural Sciences Leopoldina, pointed out that, out of a sample of 110,000 children and adolescents, only 0.53% of the tests carried out were positive.
“There are clear indications that most sources of contagion are outside the schools, so that in addition to the hygiene measures necessary in schools there must be additional extracurricular approaches to contain the pandemic and reduce the incidence,” the study authors emphasize.
Why with these data has the Cuban Government maintained the policy of suspending classes? The 2019-2020 academic year came to a standstill on the island last March and did not restart until September in a generalized manner, although in Havana it was necessary to wait until October, with the result of an academic year basically lost.
If in European countries or the US there is already evidence that online classes have been an educational disaster, the problem is more serious in Latin America and the Caribbean, where there is much less Internet access.
“Every day that passes with closed schools, a generational catastrophe takes shape, which will have profound consequences for society as a whole,” UNICEF warned in a report on the risks for the future of the region.
In Cuba, where the transmission of the coronavirus has been kept at a minimum throughout the pandemic due to a set of actions that range from the expansion of primary care to the militarization and control of society, the prolonged closure of classrooms is surprising. Especially for a country that uses education as a national standard and when multiple children’s organizations are warning of the risks, not only academic but also food and inequality, that is associated with the lack of school attendance.
Ruth Custode, education specialist at the Unicef Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean, has long warned that “the best place to guarantee education is school” and that “where there are no cases of transmission, there is no need for the schools to be closed.”
The return to classrooms of Cuban children did not seem to have an impact on the increase in cases of coronavirus, which this fall has remained stable. However, the alarming rise in figures has accompanied the reopening of borders and tourism over time, which have a great effect on increasing mobility. The authorities themselves have recognized this is when contagions began to rise and the external source represented a significant percentage if not the only one.
The authorities have introduced travel restrictions and increased sanitary protocols at airports and, at the same time, have emphasized to Cubans on the island the importance of taking extreme precautions, maintaining distances and remembering that the risk is real, even within one’s own home.
But when infections have increased and the native population already accounts for the majority with respect to imported infections, it is curious that tourism and borders are not closed, but schools are.
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