The South African Paediatric Association (SAPA) says it supports the government’s position that children should go back to school.
Pupils were set to return to school on Monday after they closed in mid-March due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
But on Sunday, the department announced it had decided schools would not reopen on Monday, saying that pupils would only return from 8 June.
However, in a statement issued over the weekend, SAPA said it supported the position that children should be returning to school immediately.
It said there was uncertainty about the future trajectory of the pandemic in South Africa, with more infections and a long duration being predicted.
"While it is certain that children face an increased risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection once back at school, the consequence for children will be milder compared to adults. Paediatric Kawasaki-like multisystem inflammatory syndrome is rare," SAPA said.
It also argued that there was no data on the relative contribution of school closures to transmission control.
"Covid-19 modelling studies predict that school closures alone would prevent only 2-4% of deaths, much less than other social distancing interventions.
"Covid-19 incidence in South Africa will inevitably increase over the next three months, and possibly for longer.
"Postponement of re-entry to school to reduce transmission risk to negligible would entail a delay of many months before schools could reopen," SAPA said.
According to the statement, teachers were not at high risk of being infected by children.
"Teachers are at a higher risk of contracting the virus from other adults (e.g. colleagues), at home or in the community (outside school). Teachers with comorbidities are at increased risk for severe Covid-19."
SAPA said children - including those with asthma, allergic conditions and HIV - could return to school.
However, children with severe immunosuppression, uncorrected significant congenital heart conditions, chronic organ failure, chronic severe respiratory disease and severe neurodevelopmental disability should stay at home, SAPA said.
It said schools should undertake measures that are known to reduce pathogen transmission.
- Providing water, sanitation and waste management facilities, and following environmental cleaning and decontamination procedures;
- Wherever possible, disinfection measures to clean high traffic areas should be conducted at the start and end of each day, and regularly during the course of the day;
- The focus should be on surfaces that are frequently touched (railings, lunch tables, sports equipment, door and window handles, toys, teaching and learning aids, etc);
- Cleaning of the environment should be with soap and water and/or wiping with alcohol or chlorine-based solution;
- For individual children, measures such as physical distancing (pupils at least one metre apart), masking, regular handwashing with soap (or sanitiser use, if water is unavailable) should be implemented;
- The use of decontamination tunnels or spraying of children has no benefit and may be harmful.
Meanwhile, teacher unions have called on schools not to reopen following government's last-minute one-week postponement of the resumption of classes for Grade 7 and Grade 12 pupils.
The unions and school governing bodies believe it is not in the best interests of pupils and teachers to return to school while there is uncertainty about health and safety.