Children today cope with stresses their parents and grandparents never knew. Some are buckling. Shukan Shincho (Sept 24) raises a question: Is the harsh response to the COVID-19 pandemic doing more harm than good?
Among experts who think it may be is Tokyo University Professor Hideaki Karaki, specializing in food safety and veterinary science. When the virus infiltrated Japan in January via the cruise ship Diamond Princess, then docked at Yokohama, it was categorized under the Infectious Diseases Control Law as a Category Two disease, along with SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) and tuberculosis.
It has since killed nearly a million people worldwide and can hardly be taken lightly. But how heavy a hand is necessary? The disease is more deadly in some environments than others. In Japan, says Karaki, citing health ministry figures, death rates were actually down in May and June – when the epidemic’s first wave was at its peak – compared to the same months last year.
Whether this proves the government’s blanket “self-restraint” warnings were effective or excessive can probably be argued both ways. Then there is the indiscriminate – though not universal – closing of schools through spring and summer. Was it necessary?
Education ministry figures compiled from May to August show a nationwide total of 1,166 infected students of elementary, junior high and senior high school students. More than half of them showed no symptoms at all. None showed severe symptoms.
Eighty percent of the kids were infected not at school but at home. Ten percent were infected at school or in parks. Again, the conclusion to be drawn is ambiguous. Karaki, for his part, feels school is more likely to be a shelter from the disease than a source of it.
In his view, COVID-19 should be downgraded to Category Five, along with seasonal influenza.
Let us try, as Shukan Shincho does, to obtain a child’s-eye view of things. One indication is a rise in non-attendance – 1.5-fold, according to one estimate – since schools reopened in August. Children are afraid. They see their parents teleworking and think, “If it’s dangerous for them to go to work, why is it safe for me to go to school?”
Kids are stressed by their parents’ stress. Shukan Shincho reports this scenario: A kid sees another kid outside without a mask; he tells his mother; the mother phones the school; the school tightens the rules; the kids encounter a new level of stress – and so on and so on, a vicious circle.
“Dark poems” are one outlet. An elementary school teacher who had her students write poems after school reopened noticed more of them than before. Kids write of being scolded for not thoroughly washing their hands and the like. Their poems liken virus to death. Research the magazine cites shows 22 percent of elementary school children polled say they wouldn’t want to play with a child who’d been infected – even after he or she had gotten over it.
Classes are back in session, but under restrictions beyond any in living memory. Play is curtailed, lunch is to be eaten in silence, events are canceled, tensions rise. “He’d been so looking forward to being in the relay on Track and Field Day,” the father of a second-grader tells the magazine. “When it was canceled he was very depressed.”
Let the kids say it themselves:
“The teacher is scary,” says one. “She gets mad if we play.”
“If I go outside,” says another, “it scares me just to see someone I don’t know.”
And a third: “I worry about my family dying from coronaviris. I don’t want to go to school.”
How long can this go on?© Japan Today