Some sections of our community have had a ‘good’ pandemic. If you’re a cold-eyed capitalist with a flair for early adoption and lobbying, you’ve made a motza from masks and RAT riches. If you’re a middling health bureaucrat with a dour expression and a flair for the dramatic, you’ve clogged our television screens for hours at a time and not lost a single day’s pay.
Not everyone has been so lucky. While our public health overlords strenuously ignore it, it is clear the worst effects of the Covid panic have been suffered by children. Lockdowns were particularly troubling. A Unesco report in 2021 examined the adverse consequences of school closures. The report details the effects felt by children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. From missing out on meals to increases in unreported sexual abuse, poorer children suffered the most. Protecting the vulnerable, indeed.
These lockdowns and restrictions trapped children in the home with their abusers. Kids Helpline reporting data demonstrate a 49 per cent increase in sexual abuse reports in the home during lockdowns. Anecdotal evidence from police officers indicates that this is probably far greater, as children have gone unseen by health services, schools or community groups which otherwise might notice and file mandatory reports.
Children have borne the brunt of the effects of draconian policies and those who have been born during this era will feel the effects well into their futures. Babies born recently will be victims of missed screenings that identify early childhood issues, like deafness or astigmatisms, which, if diagnosed early, can result in better outcomes over the course of a lifetime.
This is coupled with foolish policy decisions like the cancellation of home visits by community nurses in South Australia. They only serve to punish newborns that will be victims of missing checks identifying physical safety concerns or domestic violence, putting them at risk of SIDS, the third highest cause of death in children under one. Without a rigorous cost-benefit analysis against the risk of Covid in children under one it is an arbitrary and potentially dangerous decision.
The ongoing Resonance Study at Brown University in the United States recently released a pre-print paper indicating that children born during the pandemic in the USA experienced declines in verbal, motor and cognitive performance and an average decline in standardised IQ testing of 22 points. If this is even half correct, it’s still cause for alarm.
As with all the pandemic’s negative effects, authorities and commentators are quick to castigate parents, rather than cast so much as a glance at their own policy failure, blaming any loss in children’s cognition or speech on parental neglect, when so many of them were trying to work, keep house and teach children all at once as required by health department diktat.
Childcare, going to playgroup or shopping with a parent or carer are all regular routines that promote socialisation and help develop verbal and emotional skills. These mundane societal interactions help shape children’s development, and their loss has had a devastating effect.
For children turning four this year and entering preschool, half their lives have been shaped by inane rules, denial of simple pleasures and lack of social contact. This drives an increase in social isolation and bleeds into the poor educational outcomes that older children experience.
Ironically, bureaucratic overreach and Covid theatre have created a situation where children who truly require medical attention can’t receive it. When my own son was ill and I was nervous about pneumonia, I was forced to first have a farcical telehealth consult (‘shall I hold the phone up to his chest for you?’) before being ushered to a sweltering back room along with supplies and an old fax machine, because his complaint was ‘respiratory’ in nature. Covid cases in Adelaide at the time? Zero.
Other longer-term medical concerns for children’s health have also been obliterated due to Covid monomania. At a time when children’s obesity rates have been steadily rising, we have abandoned them to devices and screens, further entrenching the sedentary lifestyles already commonplace prior to the pandemic. Once again, it is our poorest children that end up worst off here, with obesity rates in children from lower socio-economic areas 2.4 times greater than children from our most wealthy areas. Anyone who has tackled obesity from childhood knows how hard it is to reverse. Protecting our health system, indeed.
The irrationality of decisions about children’s participation in activities that would help to reverse obesity trends knows no bounds. The same children that play sports together at weekends are banned from interschool sports in South Australia, while unvaccinated teens are locked out of community sports in Victoria. Some of the more ludicrous decisions made about children’s lifestyles in South Australia are all the more galling given the chief public health officer, Professor Nicola Spurrier, is a paediatrician by trade. Perhaps, in all her pronouncements of ‘do not touch that ball’ or the ‘pizza box strain’, she simply forgot about the children.
The rhetoric across Australia has become increasingly shrill. One of the ugliest scenes recently was breakfast television host Natalie Barr and media identity Mayor Basil Zempilas cheering on the idea floated by the WA government that would see unvaccinated parents restricted from accompanying or visiting sick children in hospital. Any civil society ought to reject outright such a vile notion, if not for the parents, at least for the sick children unduly punished by the edict.
Of course, the media in Australia have a case to answer for in championing these policies and their less-than-subtle attempts to shift the Overton Window to make outlandish restrictions seem required by the masses. Children have been scared witless by news coverage throughout attempting to paint Covid as the peril of our lifetime. The relentlessness of the pandemic news coverage cannot have been good for children’s mental health. Banning breakfast television has been one of the simplest and easiest mental health boosters in this household.
From failing young children through reducing their verbal skills, to creating the sadness of teenagers missing out on school formals due to ridiculous vaccine mandates, there has been no end to the cruelties foisted on our kids.
Our children have had a terrible pandemic. Nelson Mandela said, ‘The true character of society is revealed in how it treats its children.’ Australia’s bureaucrats have demonstrated that children are at the absolute bottom of the pile when it comes to wearing the consequences of poor policy and draconian crackdown. We should all hang our heads in shame.
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