A new variant of the coronavirus that has taken hold in some parts of the United Kingdom (UK) has scientists scrambling to uncover its implications on the pandemic. Early signs indicate it may be capable of spreading faster by being better at how it infects people. A large epidemiological analysis by Imperial College London and others showed there was a significantly larger share of infections of the new strain among those found with the virus in people under the age of 20. While this is still an early assessment, and more studies are underway, it could potentially prolong Covid-19’s impact on children, who have not been the face of the crisis but have suffered in equal measure as among some of the worst-hit groups. The virus has arrested their educational as well as socio-emotional development as they are forced indoors to avoid a virus that can debilitate older member of their families, even if it doesn’t impact them directly.
According to Unicef, over 460 million children have been unable to access remote learning tools last year. The harms extend to their health too. Disruptions in health services in lower- and middle-income countries could contribute an additional two million under-five deaths.
These costs are rarely the most visible talking points. But these must be kept in mind as the new variant forces countries such as the UK to once again close schools. India must do everything it can to not be forced to take a similar step when it plans to finally reopen schools. We must make the best use of vaccines and containment efforts not just to save lives, but also stop the mounting costs to our younger generation.
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