MANILA - A pediatric infectious diseases specialist is wary of proposals to allow children to visit shopping malls during the holiday season, saying they could be silent carriers of COVID-19.
"They are what we call silent spreaders, and you know most of us in the Philippines because of our socioeconomic conditions, we have multigenerational families including vulnerable older adults that stay in the same household," Dr. Benjamin Co said in an ANC interview.
"I'm just afraid this may be the impetus for an increase of the numbers later on."
The Philippines has so far tallied 434,357 coronavirus cases, with 8,436 deaths linked to the virus. Some 399,005 people have recovered from COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, but over 26,000 are still fighting the infection.
Though children are less likely to get severely ill with COVID-19 than adults, Co, who heads the UST Hospital’s pediatric infectious diseases section, stressed that the pandemic continued to rage.
"I guess we have to look at it in the perspective that we still have an ongoing pandemic, that our numbers are not low enough to encourage us to fully reopen the economy because another surge will not sit well on the economy as well," he said.
Even if stringent health measures will be implemented, allowing children in shopping malls for the holidays remains a risk, Co said.
"You need to remember that it's very difficult to be kids. We were children once. Number 1, behavior in children, being fun in children, is something innate in them," he said.
"So it's going to be very difficult, for example, if you have 5 or 6 children, how do you do physical distancing? How do you tell them [that] you can't run to this place? You can't go to this place? You can't touch that?"
Instead of shopping malls, Co said the government should allow children to visit open-air venues such as parks provided that they observed the minimum health standards.
"The final decision makers are actually parents and caregivers, and we encourage them, I personally encourage them to weigh the benefit and risk of the ongoing community transmission," he said.
"You need to do it based on the community [situation] before you decide to bring out the kids to crowded areas and exposing them unnecessarily to the virus."
The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) clarified Wednesday that Metro Manila mayors have yet to decide whether or not minors would be allowed to visit shopping malls during the holiday season.
In a statement, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said Metro Manila mayors "have yet to come to a consensus" pending their 2 meetings with the Philippine Pediatric Society and other health experts regarding the matter.
The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) also issued a similar statement, saying status quo remains on age-based restrictions.
The Department of Health (DOH) had said they were discouraging children from going out of their houses due to the continuing threat of COVID-19.