Child Covid infections the ‘most overlooked danger’ to Australia’s recovery

Children aged under 10 are the fastest growing age group contracting Covid – and that presents a real threat to Australia’s recovery.

Children aged under 10 are the fastest growing age group contracting Covid in Australia, prompting warnings that a backlash over childhood infections could force cities back into lockdown.

The rise of childhood infections is the most overlooked danger to Australia’s economic recovery and voter confidence over the next few months, according to new analysis prepared by a former health adviser to the Coalition government.

Infections have doubled among children, and hospitalisations of children under 10 in NSW have increased to 318 cases since the Delta variant exploded in June, compared to just six hospitalisations in the year previously. No children aged under 10 have died.

There are currently an estimated four million children aged under 12 in Australia who are at risk of contracting the virus but ineligible for a vaccine.

Vaccines are only available in Australia to children aged 12 and over.

Despite reassurances that children are unlikely to experience severe illness or require hospitalisations, the growing number of childhood infections could still spark rolling school closures and force parents to take time off work in the future.

Provocate consulting group founder Troy Bilsborough said there was a huge public re-education campaign needed to explain the strategy to parents.

He warned governments may need to adopt a “Chickenpox strategy”, which is to tell parents that it’s better to catch it when you’re young than old.

“All they’ve done at the moment is say you’re a fearmongerer if you talk about children,’’ he said.

“The problem is if the cases keep going up and some kids get very sick that’s going to undermine public confidence.

“They need to deal with the kids issue now and explain to the public why it’s safe to reopen without kids being vaccinated when they’ve just spent six months telling parents if we reopen the adults will end up in ICU.

“The big risk from kids to the economy is the growing ideological divide between Liberal governments pushing a faster reopening versus Labor governments pushing a more conservative approach.”

As vaccinated adults secure greater protection against the virus, it’s still spreading among families and household groups to kids.

The growth rate of infection in younger children has tripled this year. The percentage of child cases as a proportion of total cases has doubled from 5.6 per cent to 12 per cent in NSW.

In Victoria, there has been a 247 per cent increase in child cases under 10 to 4360 cases.

And while the overall number of childhood cases in Queensland is small, there’s been a 116 per cent increase in child cases – eight times the rate of increase among adults.

While some drug companies are pursuing vaccination options for under 12s, the mass vaccination of children is months or even years away.

Early reports indicate Pfizer will seek to lodge its applications in age groups, for example 5-11 year-olds, 2-4 year-olds and then 0-2 year-olds.

That means vaccines for all could be years away.

Mr Bilsborough said governments also risked becoming “victims of their own success”.

“Look at the outrage of Australians over governments being too slow to address growing numbers of Covid cases in aged care residents – it’s naive to think that the same risk of public backlash and political backflips isn’t there with kids, who are yet to return to school,’’ he said.

“Our advice is that the growth of Covid cases in unvaccinated children is the most-overlooked danger to Australia’s economic recovery, as well as business and voter confidence over the next few months.”

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