Keeping kids safe during the recovery MCO

  • Children
  • Sunday, 05 Jul 2020

Children over the age of two years can wear a face mask as long as their breathing is not obstructed. — IZZRAFIQ ALIAS/The Star

The new normal is in full swing as Malaysia gradually opens up during the recovery movement control order (MCO).

Businesses are reopening, traffic jams are back and people are slowly venturing out to eat and shop.

However, consultant paediatric respiratory physician Dr Norzila Mohamed Zainuddin says: “Despite the recovery MCO, as a medical practitioner, it is still a part of my professional and personal obligation to practise what is preached.

“It’s during this phase of the MCO that is important to keep at what we’ve been practising.

“The rules and regulations have loosened, people are free to roam and wander again, and trust is put into our hands to be disciplined enough in keeping ourselves and others safe.”

In the absence of a medical vaccine, countries all over the world have engaged in their own forms of “social vaccination”.

Lockdown measures have been implemented in various degrees in countries around the world.

She explains: “There are two key principles to social vaccination.

“Avoid exposing yourself to the virus and avoid spreading the virus.”

While some countries, including ours, appear to be recovering from the pandemic, news of second waves in nations that earlier seemed to have conquered the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes Covid-19, forces us to maintain our vigilance.

Dr Norzila notes that one of the most vulnerable groups of people in this pandemic are the children.

“Despite the mystery of why adult-to-child transmission rates are so low, making up 2% of total cases worldwide, and why their symptoms have been primarily recorded as mild, we cannot assume that their well-being is not affected in different ways as well,” she says.

Her concerns echo the United Nations (UN) evaluation on the pandemic’s impact.

In a policy brief published in April (2020), the UN cites how, outside of healthcare, children face stifling and detrimental effects directly and indirectly, from the infection itself to issues such as obstacles in education, livelihood, and a risk to their safety with the rise of abuse and domestic violence.

While many of these challenges depend on the reopening of society and support systems in place, there are some methods to directly tackle the fear of contracting the coronavirus.

Dr Norzila advises: “Keep your children away from overcrowded areas.

“If you take them to the playground, shopping malls or restaurants, make sure they’re 1m apart from others.”

Children two years old and below are advised not to wear face masks as they are not able to communicate if they are facing breathing difficulties.

“The rule of thumb for older children is that wearing a mask is fine as long as it doesn’t pose a choking or suffocation hazard.

“If it can be worn safely without obstructing a child’s breathing, it is fine,” she says.

Parents should also take advantage of the situation to teach children health habits that can last a lifetime.

“Leading by example, practising and rehearsing handwashing and physical distancing can help integrate these behaviours into a child’s routine.

“These steps go a long way in helping children know what they should be doing to take care of themselves when they return to nurseries, daycare centres and schools,” she says.

In conclusion, Dr Norzila says: “It is a good thing we are on the road to recovery.

“People need to provide for their families just as much as the country needs its businesses.

“At the same time, we tread on thin ice as it only takes a handful of clusters to put us back into a stricter MCO, or even a lockdown. So, that’s why we have to adapt.

“If maintaining social distance and the other practices I’ve just mentioned can keep a pandemic from coming back, then there’s no reason not to do it.”

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