Last weekend I went for a swim with a 7-year-old child. The boy could not contain his enthusiasm. “This is the happiest day of the quarantine,” he said again and again as he dove into the water off an inflatable mattress shaped like a slice of watermelon. It was a feeling of pure, unadulterated joy that made me ask myself, now that Greece has managed to contain the number of new coronavirus cases and deaths, are there really any parents out there who still do not want to send their kids back to school? Are there really any parents who do not realize how crucial it is for their children’s mental health to return to school, even if it is only for a few, shorter days per week in half-empty classrooms?
If the lockdown has made adults (with all their supposed experience in crisis management) depressed, stressed and anxious, I don’t even want to imagine what is going on in kids’ minds: How many of our anxieties have they absorbed? What do they make of the ailing socioeconomic dystopia that unfolded during the lockdown? How did they feel as they sat next to their parents watching the 6 p.m. briefing by the government’s epidemiology adviser Sotiris Tsiodras?
As a country, we put our trust in scientists and experts for the management of the pandemic and we displayed an unprecedented compliance – considering our supposedly unrestrained Mediterranean mentality – with government guidelines. Any deviations (reactions, disobedience and conspiracy theories) were marginal in comparison to other more economically developed countries where phenomena of this sort were more widespread and in some cases also found a voice in the political system.
The same people that we chose to trust in the past few months are now assuring us that it is now safe for kids to return to school. An increasing number of international surveys indicate that children do not spread the novel coronavirus as much as adults. If we need to bring back restrictions to stem a second wave of Covid-19, it will be a difficult winter. Yet those who love their kids and have no particular reason to be worried about their health must send them back to school. Cost-free opposition that seeks to exploit the issue with slogans such as “Our children are not guinea pigs” is pure populism. The left-wing parties in particular should encourage the reopening of schools so that parents can return to work.
Indeed, kids are not guinea pigs that can be treated like hamsters on a wheel just to see what will happen to them when we free them after a few months.