Small Covid-19 outbreaks must be expected in schools, says Karim

Prof Salim Abdool Karim
Prof Salim Abdool Karim (City Press)

Internationally recognised epidemiologist and infectious diseases specialist Professor Salim Abdool Karim has weighed in on the debate about schools reopening in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.

He said the country should expect small outbreaks in schools - although they would be handled and dealt with accordingly. 

Karim stated this during an interview with broadcast channel eNCA, where he said there was no good reason for children not to return to school if there were health protocols - such as hand sanitisation and social distancing - in place to curb the spread of the virus. 

He added scientific evidence showed children seemed to be infected at a much lower rate than adults and were less susceptible to the virus.  

"Of course, evidence comes up all the time and so that might change, but that's what it seems at the moment. And when they [children] do [get] infected, it seems that a very large proportion of them will have an asymptomatic cause.

"And so the disease is very mild in children," Karim said. 

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In an interview with the SABC, he added it was rare for children to get severely ill, saying sending them to school would mean they would have a low risk of acquiring the virus - and if they did get infected, it could be less severe. 

Karim said the risk was, however, not zero and there might be outbreaks in the schools which should not be a cause for concern. 

"We will not be able to be protected from this virus from a vaccine for probably the next 12 to 18 months. We can't simply go and lock ourselves away for that period. We have to go back to school, we have to go back to work, and what we have to do is do that following the rules."

Grades 7 and 12 are expected to be the first to be phased in from 1 June after schools were shut more than 50 days ago, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga announced on Tuesday. 

All schools are expected to be Covid-19 compliant, with relevant personal protective equipment in place before the reopening.

- Compiled by Sesona Ngqakamba

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