COVID-19: Challenge of keeping children indoors

Gender Focus with EMELDA MWITWA
AS THE novel coronavirus scare prematurely sends schoolchildren on holiday, many parents face the unavoidable task of keeping young ones active but safe.
What’s more, the holiday is indefinite, making the task challenging for parents and guardians, who ought to enforce the social distancing rule on young ones.
By nature children are hyperactive people who want to seize every opportunity to expend their energy on play, especially out-door activities, either with friends in the vicinity or somewhere far and nice.
So they may not fully appreciate the uniqueness of this holiday, which requires them to stay indoors for their own safety and of course in public health interest.
When Minister of Health Chitalu Chilufya announced that schools were closing in view of the current situation, it was a relief for many parents, who were worried about the vulnerability of their children to COVID-19 infection.
At the time, some countries in sub-Saharan Africa such as South Africa, Namibia, Uganda, Tanzania, Nigeria and a good number of others up north were already battling the novel coronavirus.
So the fear of schoolchildren’s vulnerability to COVID-19 was real.
You know, children are more prone to getting infected by any communicable disease than adults because, first of all, their immunities are not fully developed and, secondly, their style of interaction is based on close body contact. Therefore being in school, attending public gatherings or going out in public places puts them at higher risk of contracting the coronavirus.
I was actually among those parents that sighed with relief when Dr Chilufya announced last week that all schools, colleges and universities were closing on Friday.
Some schools actually closed a day earlier, while the rest of them, especially boarding schools, complied by sending the children home by Friday.
At the time Dr Chilufya announced the decision to close all schools, Zambia had no single case of the new coronavirus.
But when a day later Dr Chilufya announced that there were two confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Zambia, some parents reacted by withdrawing their children from school with immediate effect.
By now, all the children are home, some with lots of homework because it is not known when the schools will re-open.
Our only prayer is that COVID-19 cases do not escalate so that we can revert to our normal lives.
In the meantime, the challenge for many parents is about how to keep the children safe in view of the precautionary measures that we all need to observe against the virus.
Well, this is an unusual holiday for the children and may take longer than expected.
Children are obviously expecting the usual holidaymaking or perhaps going out to visit some relatives out of town. Those in urban areas want to have fun in shopping malls.
Parents have a difficult task of making the children understand that they can’t go beyond the boundaries of their homes to play because of the new coronavirus and its contagion nature.
It is our responsibility as parents to explain to the children about COVID-19; its symptoms, how it is transmitted from one person to the other, and how it can be prevented.
Children need to know that they can get infected simply by shaking hands with other people or touching COVID-19 contaminated surfaces, whether at home or in public places.
I think all that the children need are truths on the nature of the global pandemic and ways of preventing it if they are to comply with the social-distancing rule or indoor confinement.
When armed with knowledge, it will be easy for children to not only stay at home but also comply with the recommended self-hygiene rules, including respiratory hygiene.
Some children may sneak out during this holiday to go and have fun in the neighourhood or at the mall because parents have not explained to them the dangers of doing so.
And it is quite common for adults to not share certain information with children on public health matters because we think we can take precautions on their behalf.
You may find that some people are busy observing the golden rule of washing hands frequently with soap or sanitising themselves with hand rubs, without making these things available to the people at home.
With COVID-19, and many diseases for that matter, it doesn’t work like that. Every family member must be sensitised about risk factors and how to stay safe in order for everyone to stay safe.
The other challenge that parents have in view of the indefinite closure of schools is keeping children busy and active so that they are not bored at home.
First of all, parents need to make sure that the children have a strict studying timetable during this holiday.
Well, they can play games at home and watch television, but they also need to study, especially those in examination classes.
In the undesired event of the holiday prolonging, some children may have difficulties catching up in class if they do not use this holiday to study.
Secondly, parents ought to make sure that older children take an active role in doing domestic chores such as cleaning the house, cooking and doing laundry.
But parents need to resist the temptation of sending children to tuition centres to do some catching up during this unusual holiday.
Doing so is as good as sending them back to school. Tuition centres are not safe at the moment because some children and teachers may be coming from COVID-19 affected homes.
Mind you, the new coronavirus is so serious that some countries have locked down completely – people are working from homes, international flights have been cancelled, and the use of public transport has been suspended.
As of March 24, the disease had infected about 1,000 people in Africa, and killing 23, contrary to some myths on the continent that it doesn’t affect blacks.
Globally it had claimed 16,500 lives out of its 377,400 victims.
Therefore, every parent needs to play their God-given responsibility of keeping schoolchildren safe during this holiday and making sure that they stay indoors.
Email: Phone: 0211-221364/227793

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