While COVID-19 has largely spared children from the most severe symptoms of the disease, their lives have been turned upside down.

Children of all ages and in all countries are being impacted. For some, the effects of COVID-19 will be with them for the rest of their lives. 

We talked to UNICEF Australia Program Manager for Early Childhood Development, Alice Hall, to discuss some of the significant impacts of COVID-19 on children. 
Taratiteiti holding her one-year-old daughter Pepeeti inside a clinic in Kiribati, while a nurse gives her a immunisation shot. © UNICEF/UN0203808/Sokhin


IMMUNISATION


Coronavirus has killed hundreds of thousands but it has also prevented thousands of people from protecting themselves from other diseases.

As families stay home to stop the spread of coronavirus, children are missing out on essential routine vaccinations against deadly diseases like measles and polio.  

“With any big emergency that reaches the community, we see access to routine healthcare take a huge hit and immunisation is a critical part of that,” Alice says.

“People have less access to information about when and if they should be vaccinated. Health centres are also overwhelmed and less likely to follow up when children miss their vaccinations.”

Countries like Papua New Guinea (PNG), which have had huge success over the past few years in boosting immunisation coverage, are expected to see a drop in routine immunisation numbers as a result of COVID-19. In many cases, essential outreach and mobile activities to reach children in the most remote communities are on hold. 

Vietnam and the Philippines have also postponed essential immunisation campaigns to boost coverage where there are large gaps.
A child being vaccinated against polio in Vientiane Province, Laos. A 10-day polio vaccination campaign across 13 provinces in Lao was undertaken in March 2018 to vaccinate about 460,000 at-risk children. This is in response to a polio outbreak in 2015 and 2016. © UNICEF/UN0198134/Nazer

“People are also hesitant to go to health centres because they are worried about maintaining safe healthcare with limited access to handwashing facilities,” Alice says.

Movement restrictions have also disrupted supply chains and the delivery of much needed medical products and vaccinations.

Since March, there has been a 70 - 80 per cent decline in planned vaccines shipments and 26 countries have been flagged as at risk for lacking stock for at least one vaccine. On top of this, training for health workers on how to administer vaccines as well as how to respond to COVID-19 have also been delayed.

“Regular training programs are really difficult to do now. How can we have virtual training when some health facilities don’t even have access to electricity?”
Never in history has there been a time where so many school children have had their education disrupted. Across the Asia-Pacific region, 325 million students have been affected by school closures. © UNICEF/UNI296706/Simons
 
“Previous emergencies have shown that
when a child’s education is disrupted,
particularly for a long period of time, they
are less and less likely to return to school.”

EDUCATION


Never in history has there been a time where so many school children have had their education disrupted. More than 190 countries have closed schools countrywide, affecting more than 1.5 billion children and youth globally. Across the Asia-Pacific region, 325 million students have been affected by school closures. 

“Previous emergencies have shown that when a child’s education is disrupted, particularly for a long period of time, they are less and less likely to return to school,” Alice says. 

Not only do they become disengaged with learning, but many take on added family responsibilities including work or caring roles for younger siblings or the elderly. 

For those students that do return, they will need accelerated learning to catch up on the parts of the curriculum that they have missed. 

“Even if the most high quality home-based learning has been delivered - which we know in many of these countries has not been possible - there has been some form of disruption to a child’s learning,” Alice says. 

“So a big focus for UNICEF's work is how we give teachers the skills to assist this learning and tailor this teaching for students to catch up with the curriculum.” 
A woman holds her head as she talks to social worker, Phon, 47, at her home in Kandal province, Cambodia. © UNICEF/UN077250/Fox


CHILD PROTECTION


Closures to schools also puts children at risk of greater exposure to violence and sexual abuse. With most families staying at home, children have less, and in many cases no, access to outside contacts.  

“With the increased economic, social and psychological pressures that families are experiencing right now, many countries have reported increasing cases in domestic violence - that’s violence against children but also violence that children are witnessing at home,” Alice says. 

“This can be extremely damaging not only for their emotional wellbeing but also their cognitive development which can impact their whole life.” 

Alice says schools can be a protective place for children who are in need of support or a helpline. 

“We know a lot of students have expressed additional stresses as a result of COVID-19 and that’s due to uncertainty, loss of family income, experiences of violence in the home,” she says. 

“There are a lot of different things that could impact a student’s mental health and the school community can provide psychosocial support to cope with those stresses and recover.” 

UNICEF is working to improve access to child protection support for children, including supplying social workers with personal protective equipment (PPE) so that they can continue to provide support and care for children. We are also ensuring alternative care continues by providing children who can no longer be with their families with a safe place to go.
 
“This can be extremely damaging not only for
their emotional wellbeing but also their cognitive
development which can impact their whole life.”
Ms Lesley Miller, UNICEF Deputy Representative, visits a household of Ms Dua, a mother of four children from Mong ethnic minority. Ms Dua shares openly the difficulties she has faced with her children at home in the last months and how she worries that the pandemic might further disrupt their education in the months and years to come. © UNICEF/UNI328698/Viet Nam\Truong Viet Hung
During her field visit, UNICEF Representative in Vietnam Rana Flowers learnt that the children had missed school and missed seeing their teachers and friends. © UNICEF/UNI328661/Viet Nam\Truong Viet Hung

Quick FAQs about COVID-19

What is a 'novel' coronavirus?
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A novel coronavirus (CoV) is a new strain of coronavirus. The disease caused by the novel coronavirus first identified in Wuhan, China, has been named coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) – ‘CO’ stands for corona, ‘VI’ for virus, and ‘D’ for disease.

Formerly, this disease was referred to as ‘2019 novel coronavirus’ or ‘2019-nCoV.’ The COVID-19 virus is a new virus linked to the same family of viruses as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and some types of common cold.
How does the COVID-19 virus spread?
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The virus is transmitted through direct contact with respiratory droplets of an infected person (generated through coughing and sneezing), and touching surfaces contaminated with the virus. The COVID-19 virus may survive on surfaces for several hours, but simple disinfectants can kill it.
What are the symptoms of novel coronavirus?
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Symptoms can include fever, cough and shortness of breath. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia or breathing difficulties. More rarely, the disease can be fatal. 

These symptoms are similar to the flu (influenza) or the common cold, which are a lot more common than COVID-19. This is why testing is required to confirm if someone has COVID-19.

It’s important to remember that key prevention measures are the same – frequent hand washing, and respiratory hygiene (cover your cough or sneeze with a flexed elbow or tissue, then throw away the tissue into a closed bin). Also, there is a vaccine for the flu – so remember to keep yourself and your child up to date with vaccinations. 
 
​How can I avoid the risk of infection?
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Here are four precautions you and your family can take to avoid infection:

1. Wash your hands frequently using soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub 
2. Cover your mouth and nose with a flexed elbow or tissue, when coughing or sneezing, and throw away the tissue into a closed bin
3. Avoid close contact with anyone who has cold or flu-like symptoms
4. Go to the doctor if you have a fever, cough or feel that it is difficult to breathe

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