Health officials and politicians insisting children were at low risk of contracting coronavirus has been a major failing of the public health response to COVID-19, a CQUniversity academic has said.
Public health expert Dr Sabi Kaphle said the messaging that 'school is safe' has not been sufficiently proven, and called on the Victorian Government extend the shutdown to child care centres alongside schools to protect the whole community.
Dr Kaphle is a Public Health Lecturer at CQUniversity in Melbourne, with more than 20 years' experience in the health sector in Australia and internationally.
She's also a mum to primary and secondary school students, living in Melbourne's west.
"From the start of the pandemic we were told that children were at low risk and schools were safe places, even with little physical distancing or other safeguards enforced, and this was obviously confusing to the whole community," Dr Kaphle said.
"Now, we see nearly 1000 Victorian children have tested positive, and even outbreaks amongst children in child care centres, and that previous low-risk messaging really seems negligent.
"You can see the language from health officials is changing now, that every age group is vulnerable to this virus.
"Governments have clearly underestimated the risk to children – in my opinion, all educational settings should be closed until the situation is under control.
"There are significant psychosocial impacts among children and parents because of all the uncertain circumstances and conflicting messaging going around now."
Data released by Victoria's Health and Human Services Department showed that on 21 July 2020, 993 children (aged 0-19) across the state had tested positive to coronavirus since the pandemic began.
Nationally, the figure was at 1323 (aged 0-19) on 22 July 2020.
"Since the beginning of the outbreak, the huge variation of transmission rates in different communities globally meant we didn't have enough evidence to justify the belief that there was less risk for young people," Dr Kaphle said.
"And looking at the Australia numbers as they come in, we still can't really make a conclusion.
"We haven't got enough explanation about how hundreds of children have contracted the virus, and until that is clear, the government must treat children like everyone else, as lives to be protected."