The official body that coordinates Belgium's various paediatric organisations has called for the current coronavirus measures to be dropped in schools for children under 12 years old.
For primary schools in regions where the epidemiological situation is stable, restrictions relating to testing and quarantining should be suspended, say the paediatricians, who put out a statement under the umbrella organisation Belgische Academie voor Geneeskunde (Belgian Academy for Medicine).
"Even if it turns out that this abolition poses a risk, we advocate tightening measures for the adults in society in favour of a normalisation of education for our under-12-year-olds," the doctors wrote in a press release.
The current rules for primary school pupils state that, if it is not possible to identify high-risk contacts within the classroom following an infection, the entire classroom may have to quarantine if there are several infections in the group, or if a teacher tests positive.
According to the Sciensano Health Institute rules, if a teacher in primary education tests positive, the pupils will normally be considered high-risk contacts, as "the teacher is walking around, and cannot always keep their distance and face masks are not recommended in primary schools."
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If two pupils in the same class become infected within 14 days and the class has not already been closed, the class will – in most cases – be closed for 7-10 days, unless an epidemiological investigation shows that the infections were probably contracted outside the classroom.
Meanwhile, in the case of one infected child or pupil in primary school, the other classmates, as well as the teacher, are considered low-risk contacts, meaning they only need to be tested if they show symptoms and they do not need to isolate.
More damage than the virus itself
The paediatricians supported their argument with a list of details, among them the fact that children under the age of 12 have not yet had the chance to get vaccinated, whilst parents and teachers have.
"Testing children, imposing mouth masks and quarantine go against the principle of 'primum non nocere' (first, do no harm) which is included in the Hippocratic Oath that doctors took," the body wrote in the statement.
"These drastic actions do much more damage to the children in the short and long term than going through the infection itself," the paediatricians explained.
The doctors also argued that the number of new coronavirus infections remains stable in Belgium - currently an average of around 2000 new infections per week - and that almost all adults who are admitted to hospital now are those who have chosen not to get vaccinated.
They also argued that children under the age of 12 should only get vaccinated if a doctor considers it useful for the child itself.
Also, if there are one or more cases of COVID-19 in a class, the paediatricians believe that sick children should only be tested if the treating doctor considers it useful. They also call for the abolition of quarantine regulations and the mask requirement for under-12 year olds in schools.