Friday, January 21, 2022

Most Covid-19 Delta kids had only ‘runny nose’

Two-thirds of children recorded as Covid-19 patients in hospital were never sick but merely required out-of-home care, a sweeping government-funded study reveals.

One in five children infected with the Delta variant of the virus in NSW did not show any symptoms, the first comprehensive study of the severity of coronavirus in Australian children concludes.

Obesity was the biggest risk factor for children getting sick, the study shows, with babies and teenagers more likely than toddlers to fall seriously ill.

As state governments decide whether to test teachers and students to keep schools open, the study of 17,474 under-16s in NSW who caught the virus in 2021 reveals the more dangerous Delta variant left most kids with little more than a runny nose.

Fifteen children required intensive-care treatment for a week, on average, and the one child who died was also infected with deadly meningitis.

Of the 459 children admitted to hospital, only 165 were admitted for medical need and stayed two days, on average.

“Two-thirds of the children admitted to hospital in our cohort were admitted for social rather than medical reasons, predominantly due to the hospitalisation of their own parents and carers,’’ the study concludes.

“A significant number of highly vulnerable children admitted to hospital were solely admitted due to the lack of availability of their usual social services to provide care – including those in out-of-home care or supported by disability support agencies.’’

The research was conducted between June and December 2021, when few teenagers were fully vaccinated and the Covid-19 vaccine had not been approved for under-12s.

The study, by researchers from the Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network, the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance, the University of Sydney, the University of NSW, and the Royal Children’s Hospital and Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Melbourne, has not yet been peer reviewed.

But chief medical officer Professor Paul Kelly referred to the findings after national cabinet’s meeting on Thursday, declaring it showed Omicron was “very much a mild illness in children’’.

He said it was important children get back to class on time this month, and that schools stay open for kids’ physical and mental health. He said there was “a chance’’ that children could infect adults, which was the “trade-off’’ for keeping schools open.

“We want kids back at school, we want them back on day one and to keep them at school as much as possible, and there are trade-offs for that in terms of transmission,’’ he said.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Omicron “is all over the place’’ so adults risked catching the virus even if children stayed home. National cabinet failed to agree on a national plan for reopening schools, with Queensland and South Australia postponing the return.

Mr Morrison said some states would require “surveillance’’ testing to check for the spread of Omicron in schools and childcare, with the federal government to pay half the cost of rapid antigen tests (RAT).

Australian Education Union federal president Correna Haythorpe demanded that state and federal governments ensure a sufficient supply of free RAT kits for all staff and students.

She said teachers and students would return to school without consistent and nationally co-ordinated guidelines on how to mitigate health and safety risks.

Professor Kelly said school reopenings would increase movement in cities and towns. “We do expect transmission potential will increase as schools go back.’’

Thrive by Five, an advocacy group for young children, warned that more than 300 childcare centres are closed due to Omicron outbreaks. Chief executive Jay Weatherill said national cabinet had failed to protect children in daycare.


Leading universities want to return to physical learning

University of Melbourne Provost Professor Nicola Phillips said the majority of coursework subjects would be available on campus and a number of events and activities were planned to help re-engage students in university life.

“Our approach will look forward to the future rather than back to pre-pandemic arrangements, offering on-campus and face-to-face learning enhanced by the best use of technology,” she said.

A Monash University spokesman said students would return to physical learning and campus events in semester one.

“Provision will be made for online delivery of units for those students offshore and unable to re-enter Australia before the start of the semester, and for those who choose to travel and commence on-campus education at a later date,” he said.

Australian National University vice-chancellor Brian Schmidt said teaching would return to campus at the start of semester but online learning would be available to those who needed it, including staff and students in isolation.

“We’re finalising the details for our return to campus next month and our focus is firmly on bringing classroom teaching back to campus,” he said.

“I view this as an essential part of the ANU experience – and I know our students feel the same.”

The University of Queensland aims to return as much as possible to physical classes but a spokeswoman said some online learning would remain. “As the Covid-19 situation evolves, the university expects to continue a mix of face-to-face and online learning when semester begins on 21 February, with the goal of returning to as much face-to-face learning as soon as possible,” she said.

In Western Australia, which endured the pandemic relatively unscathed until recently, about three-quarters of University of Western Australia students were able to attend face-to-face classes in 2021. A spokeswoman said UWA planned a “flexible approach” to learning in 2022 to ensure the health and safety of staff and students as well as complying with state government health advice.

“To manage this, we have established a Covid management team to co-ordinate flexible responses to teaching/learning, campus management, student support, working arrangements and ongoing public health measures, as required,” she said.

In NSW, where Covid case numbers are highest, both the University of Sydney and University of Technology Sydney have yet to confirm back-to-physical learning plans.

A University of Sydney spokeswoman said plans for the delivery of semester one would be released in early February but the strong preference was for teaching to return to campus.

“Of course, we also have a responsibility for the safety and wellbeing of our staff and students and so we are monitoring the evolving situation closely to determine whether that will be possible,” she said.

A UTS spokeswoman said detailed planning was under way for on-campus sporting, social and cultural activities but said lectures were always intended to be online.

“At UTS we have always planned for lectures (where they are largely a one-way delivery of information) to be online and will shortly be announcing our plans for the ways in which our other learning experiences will be organised in a reactivated campus in combination with quality online learning,” she said.


Billionaire Clive Palmer attempts a political comeback and runs for the Senate in Queensland

Clive Palmer plans to fund the most expensive political campaign in the nation’s history in a bid to win him a seat in the Australian Senate at the federal election.

The former federal MP will lead the Queensland ticket for his United Australia Party, putting himself in direct competition with Pauline Hanson and former Queensland premier Campbell Newman. “We are very confident we will win Senate seats in Queensland,” Mr Palmer said.

“In February, we will commence the largest and most expensive political campaign in the nation’s history.”

Mr Palmer said he would spare no expense to “ensure our position is clearly communicated”, having dished out a record $83m at the 2019 election.

Despite that multimillion-­dollar spend, the party did not win a single seat and secured 3.5 per cent of the national vote.

“Our objective at the last election was to ensure Bill Shorten did not become prime minister … we got exactly what we wanted,” he said. “The reason I’ve come back into politics and taken a key role at this important time is because of the state of the nation.

“I’d like to be on my boat but I’m not, I’m in this situation.”

The Senate team includes former Deloitte Australia chief executive Domenic Martino in NSW and property executive Ralph Babet in Victoria.

Liberal defector and federal MP Craig Kelly will continue to lead the UAP’s raft of House of Representatives candidates.

Mr Newman, a one-term Liberal National Party premier who is leading the Queensland Senate campaign ticket for the Liberal Democrats, said he was not surprised by Mr Palmer’s decision.

“I am not worried because it is not about me – I have a successful business career and the only reason I have put my hand up again is to send the major parties a strong message,” he said.

“I hope people back me, but if (Mr Palmer) gets up ahead of me then that is an improvement on where we are today.”

Mr Palmer, who is not vaccinated against Covid-19 because he does not believe he needs to be, said he would flout health orders if they impeded his campaign ­efforts. In Queensland, people must be double vaccinated to visit hospitals, pubs, restaurants, state parliament, stadiums and tourist experiences.

“We will not let (mandates) stop us, that is another game of ­repression that the government takes,” Mr Palmer said.

“It might stop a lot of people without money. I have enough money to pay for lawyers who love doing these things; that is their business, they enjoy it.”

Mr Palmer said he ignored mandatory check-in requirements at the Hyatt Regency Brisbane on Wednesday.

“The High Court has made it very clear that the freedom of ­political communication in this country is protected by the Constitution; if anyone gets in the way of that there will be a court order against them,” he said.

Of Queensland’s six Senate seats up for grabs, Paul Williams, a political scientist and associate professor at Griffith University, predicts two will go to the Liberal Nationals, two to Labor, one to One Nation and the final to the Greens, “but Senate predictions are always fraught”.

If Dr Williams’ Senate prediction comes true, that leaves Mr Palmer, Mr Newman and Assistant Attorney-General Amanda Stoker without a Senate seat.

“I think she (Senator Stoker) will struggle,” he said.

“We are going to see a lot of right-wing LNP voters go to the populist right fringe.”


Sending kids back to school is 'frightening' for some parents

Rebecca Copeland felt so anxious about the thought of sending her son Harrison back to school this year that she briefly considered quitting her job so she could keep him at home.

The 11-year-old Tasmanian boy has an extremely rare neurological condition, pontine tegmental cap dysplasia, and can deteriorate quickly when he is sick.

Ms Copeland said she was incredibly fearful about what it would mean for Harry if he contracted COVID-19, and she was worried about his return to school on February 9.

"If he were to contract COVID how would that look for him? It's really frightening because he is at more risk of everything, not just COVID.

"He just generally finds the day to day tricky at the best of times without contracting COVID."

Harrison has received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine but will not receive his second dose until a few weeks into term one.

His disability also makes it difficult for him to wear a mask.

Ms Copeland welcomed the Tasmanian government's announcement that schools would individually contact parents, but she said she still had some concerns.

"I took some comfort from the fact that they are meeting and discussing the best way forward, and I think they are listening to medical advice, but I think a lot of the things that they are saying are difficult to implement in a school, in fact, they're almost impossible," she said.

"Being a schoolteacher myself and working in schools, I think that social distancing measures and mask wearing — that will only be the teachers, not the students— they're impossible.

"These things that they've got in place sound great, but in reality I just don't think that they're going to work."

Tasmanian Disability Education Reform Lobby founder Kristen Desmond said the plan to consult with each family was a good one, but she worried it would not be possible by February 9.

"The reality is we have more than 4,000 students with a disability in Tasmanian schools and no COVID plans are in place for these students in terms of their individual education plan or their medical plans," she said.

"I just don't know [that] schools are going to be able to make all those phone calls. "I certainly hope they can … but 4,000 in three weeks is a whole lot of pressure on schools."




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