Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga postponed the reopening of schools to Monday, 8 June, after it was decided by the Council of Education Ministers (CEM).

The Human Rights Commission (HRC) also said a number of schools were not ready to reopen.

The HRC said the schools still required sanitation supplies and personal protective equipment to protect teachers and children from Covid-19.

The South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) and the National Teachers Union (Natu) also said schools were unable to reopen because it did not adhere to safety protocols. 

But, despite the national postponement of the reopening of schools, the Western Cape government decided to reopen its schools, saying it was, by-and-large, ready.

The Western Cape has the highest number of coronavirus cases in the country. 

Here’s what we know about the risk of children getting infected by Covid-19, and the risks of reopening schools: 

Children are less likely to be affected by Covid-19 

The World Health Organisation (WHO) believes that people over 65 and people with pre-existing medical conditions (such as asthma, diabetes and heart disease) are more susceptible to the coronavirus, and becoming seriously ill from it.

In comparison, people under the age of 20 make up less than 2% of cases hospitalised globally.

In an interview with Cape Talk, South African Paediatric Association executive member Professor Haroon Saloojee said children are unlikely to show Covid-19 symptoms, or have mild cases of it, and have a very low risk of dying from the disease.

As of May 30, 2 children aged 0-9 and 2 aged 10-19 have died of coronavirus.

The risk of infection, however, still exists, which is why children should always practice proper hygiene techniques, such as wearing masks inside and outside schools. 

Children are less likely to spread the disease 

Saloojee said children have lower viral loads, which is the amount of the virus in an individual, and are less likely to spread the disease than adults. This is because the virus is less able to replicate in a child’s body than in an adult.

Saloojee said children are more likely to get the disease in the community than at school. Schools might, therefore, be safer than staying at home. 

A recent review by Science Magazine found a single case of a child under 10 years spreading the disease.

Teachers are also at a lower risk of getting the virus from children than from other adults.

In Holland, contact tracing of children under 18, who were infected by the virus, showed that none of their contacts became infected.

The science is, however, still inconclusive whether children, especially those without symptoms, can spread the virus. 

School closures are ineffective in slowing the spread of Covid-19  

Modelling has already shown that closing schools only presents a small incremental public health benefit in the case of usual respiratory viruses, such as influenza, and even less for Covid-19.

The South African Paediatric Association believes that school closures prevented only between 2-4% of Covid-19 deaths, much less than other physical distancing interventions.

In France, where 70 cases of the coronavirus were reported after schools reopened, the education ministry said the infections were tiny in comparison to the number of children who returned to schools.

The ministry said the majority of the infections also occurred outside of school premises. 

Cases of Covid-19 associated with inflammatory syndrome are rare 

While there’s a growing number of children dying from an inflammatory syndrome linked to Covid-19, it remains extremely rare. 

In New York, 100 cases have been reported, with three confirmed deaths. 

The syndrome is similar to the Kawasaki Disease, common among children of Japanese and Korean descent, which sees the swelling and redness of blood vessels throughout the body.

Symptoms include a high fever, rashes, abdominal pain, and a red or swollen tongue.

However, Covid-19-related cases appear to be older than typical Kawasaki patients, and show more severe symptoms. Cases have been treated in the United States, France and the United Kingdom. 

Medical experts stress that the condition remains rare, and more research is required to link the disease to the coronavirus.

Asthma among children and adults does not increase their risk of Covid-19 

While asthma was originally reported as a complicating factor for Covid-19, data released from New York showed it was diagnosed in less than 5% of those who had died.

The risk factors linked to experiencing worse Covid-19 symptoms are morbid obesity, diabetes and chronic heart disease. 

The Allergy Foundation of South Africa found that asthmatics have not been shown to be more at risk of being infected by the coronavirus or having severe Covid-19.