“The very notion that COVID-19 only affects older people is factually wrong,” said Hans Kluge, the head of the World Health Organisations (WHO’s) European branch yesterday (2 April).
Mr Kluge, who was speaking to reporters via an online briefing from Copenhagen, stressed that age is not the only risk for severe disease, explaining that children can also be seriously affected by COVID-19.
In fact, Mr Kluge pointed out several cases of the virus among teenagers and young adults around the globe, some even resulting in death.
In Belgium, a 12-year-old girl became the youngest victim of the virus in Belgium while in the United States, a 6-week-old baby was reported to have died from the virus.
According to data from the WHO, about 10 to 15 percent of cases detected in people under 50 years of age were moderate to serious infections.
However, Mr Kluge also noted in the briefing that those who “age healthily” are less at risk, adding that there have also been reports of people over the age of 100 who had contracted the virus but have since made full recoveries.
The WHO’s Europe branch reported that the region of 53 countries has 464,849 confirmed cases of the virus so far and 30,098 deaths. About 80 percent of those who succumbed to the virus has at least one underlying illness. In particular, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
As such, Mr Kluge stressed the importance for people in every age group to adhere to hygiene guidelines.
“It is not only an act of solidarity with others, in particular with those most likely to be severely affected, but also vital for your own health and safety,” he said.
Education Minister says virus “doesn’t affect the young very much”
The message from the head of WHO’s Europe branch is in contrast to a Facebook post by Singapore’s Education Minister Ong Ye Kung who, under pressure from the public to explain why schools in the country remain open amid the pandemic, explained that evidence shows that young children are not as affected by the virus as adults.
In his post on 22 March, Mr Ong said, “With the virus being around for several months now, there is a body of scientific evidence showing that COVID-19 does not affect the young very much as compared to adults.”
He added that parents would be familiar with this concept, using chicken pox as an example.
He went on to say that there is also no evidence to show that young people are vectors or spreaders of the virus, noting that it seems to be the other way around.
“The reverse appears to be the case, where the young get infected by adults at home,” said Mr Ong.
He added that this was the advice of Professor Dale Fisher, Group Director of Medicine at NUHS and Chair of the WHO Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network.
Given this context, Mr Ong then suggested that “it may not be a bad idea” for children to spend most of their day in schools where lessons and activities are organised in such a way to ensure that students only mingle with other students who are less susceptible to the virus compared to adults.
“They will be quite a resilient group,” he stressed.
Mr Ong then said posited that if schools were closed, children would end up mingling in the community instead of staying at home, thus exposing themselves to more risk.
He said, “In that sense, schools remain safe places for children, especially as they seem to be more resilient against the virus.”