Coronavirus: Children

Fears in India of potential third wave affecting kids

As India's second wave of Covid-19 continues its devastation, doctors and health experts have noted a rise in infections among children, fuelling concerns that children are more vulnerable to catching the disease.

Claims that the B1617 variant first detected in India disproportionately affects children, the only segment of the population ineligible for vaccination, have further fed the fears.

"There is no scientific evidence and epidemiological data to say that a third wave of Covid-19 in India will affect mainly the children. All susceptible age groups are likely to be equally affected," said Dr Chandrakant Lahariya, an epidemiologist who was formerly with the World Health Organisation.

But public concern is pushing many states and the Indian government to set up task forces and exclusive Covid-19 care centres for children, and to issue advisories on preventing transmission from children.

Vaccine maker Bharat Biotech has also launched a clinical trial for a children's vaccine.

More children have indeed been infected in India's second wave of Covid-19, but the increase in deaths is less pronounced.

In Maharashtra, the worst-hit state, 75,387 children were infected in the past month - an increase of almost 51 per cent.

But they form a small percentage of overall infections: Those aged under 10 made up only 3 per cent of infections, while those aged between 10 and 19 made up 6.8 per cent.

To dispel fears, the Indian authorities clarified last Tuesday that the majority of children are asymptomatic and only a small proportion needed hospitalisation.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked 10 states to collect and analyse data on the transmission of Covid-19 among youth and children to protect them.

Many states are testing more children, especially if they have been exposed to a family member with Covid-19.

The Delhi government will form a special task force to prepare medical infrastructure for children.

Doctors warn that children can catch and spread the virus more easily.

Dr Supraja Chandrasekar, a paediatric intensivist at Columbia Asia Hospital in Yeshwantpur, Bangalore, called children "Covid butterflies", flitting from person to person playfully, inadvertently transmitting the virus.

Since it is challenging to isolate young children, Dr Chandrasekar recommended "reverse isolation", where vulnerable adults such as grandparents lock themselves away.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 23, 2021, with the headline 'Fears in India of potential third wave affecting kids'. Subscribe