Study reveals harm of lockdown

Mavis Duncanson. Photo: ODT files
Mavis Duncanson. Photo: ODT files
A study of last year’s main Covid-19 lockdown highlights the need for the wellbeing of young children to be a key focus in future pandemic planning.

The Dunedin research found that avoiding hospitals and reduced access to healthcare contributed to moderate and severe harm for children during the Level 4 lockdown and Level 3 restrictions.

The study, undertaken by the University of Otago’s New Zealand Paediatric Surveillance Unit, undertook weekly surveillance of delayed access to, or presentation to, health services.

The research was published in the Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health.

Unit co-director Dr Mavis Duncanson, of the Otago women and children’s health department, said that "despite clear messaging, hospital avoidance and reduced access to primary and secondary care" were linked with significant potential harm for children, and newborns were disproportionately affected.

During the six-week lockdown period, there were about 55 cases nationally, where paediatricians believed a child’s care may have been compromised through delayed seeking of medical help.

Five cases of rheumatic fever were reported.

In nearly two-thirds of overall cases (65%) the child was up to a year old, and, in 56% of cases, was younger than seven weeks old.

In 38 cases of delay, paediatricians said the effects were "moderate", four were severe, and 13 of minor impact.

Main reasons for the delays appeared to be hospital avoidance through fear of Covid-19 exposure, as well as reduced access to primary healthcare services and a lack of face-to-face post-natal visits.

Young children could "get very sick very quickly" but relied on adults to observe them and promote their health.

Even when protective bubbles were in place, it was important that midwives and, later, Plunket nurses could visit and check infants at home.

The bubble concept had raised awareness of social distancing but may have also resulted in "parents excluding midwives from their homes" and important post-natal checks being missed, she said.

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