Protecting children during the COVID-19 pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic is the greatest public health challenge of our time. Children, although largely spared from the direct health effects of SARS-CoV-2, have been profoundly affected. Four key areas of risk for children globally have been identified: poverty, education, threats to survival and health, and risks to safety (United Nations (UN), 2020).
Governments worldwide are responding to this evolving situation with ever-changing legislation and policy. Northern Ireland is uniquely influenced both by its political position as a devolved nation of the UK and its geographical location on the island of Ireland. As a result, its coalition government, the Northern Ireland Executive, has faced unenviable political challenges as the pandemic unfolded.
Northern Ireland implemented two regionally imposed school closures in 2020 and again is in lockdown in 2021 due to the emergence of a new SARS-CoV-2 variant. The risks of accrued loss of learning are tangible and school closures face heavy criticism; however, in contrast to previous closures, childcare facilities and schools for children with special educational needs have remained open. England has pledged to open all schools for all pupils in March 2021; however, Northern Ireland is planning a more cautious approach (Department of Education (DE), 2021a). Online learning has been implemented regionally during lockdown, but high poverty rates and many rural communities make delivery of equitable online learning challenging.
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