A CORK GP has warned of the potential devastation further school closures could have on children after seeing patients as young as nine suffering from Covid-related anxiety.
Blackpool-based GP Dr John Sheehan aired his concerns following calls from ministers and some families to delay the proposed reopening of schools this Thursday amid the latest Omicron surge.
Schools are expected to reopen as scheduled, despite growing concerns about the recent surge in daily reported Covid cases.
Education Minister Norma Foley will meet with unions, management bodies and Department officials tomorrow to discuss plans and has said "all infection prevention and control measures" are under review.
Dr Sheehan listed his concerns should there be a U-turn or a closure in the coming weeks or months.
"I have had nine years olds overwhelmed because they are they're afraid their grandparents are going to die," he said.
"When they are seeing this all the time on the news and in social media it can become too much. The positive thing is that they had the wherewithal to speak out about how they felt and how it was affecting them.
"A lot of the time it can just be about reassuring the child and normalising some of their anxieties. It's all about allowing the child to articulate their fears and adopt a routine for them while also reminding them that there is a level of normality again."
Nonetheless, he fears that progress may be scuppered by more school closures.
"Having the extra time at home can be fine when you're older but when you're young this is affecting an important part of your development," he explained.
"All the supports that people have are really important but trying to offer these things from a screen can be a real challenge for teachers and parents."
Dr Sheehan said he has witnessed the impact of the lack of socialisation for children firsthand.
"I had parents who sent their kids back a few months after the schools reopened," he said.
"We were trying to encourage them to send them back because the child was more inclined to disengage again if they continued to miss out. If the schools close again children are going to face that anxiety period all over again. I've already seen how an extra two or three months can really affect a child's ability to engage.
He described how returning to school after the last lockdown proved overwhelming for many children.
"A lot of children found being homeschooled difficult. It was hard for them to get back into the classroom because they were having to interact with all these people again after getting used to being at home and in a bubble environment. They found that quite stressful so for young people in particular this has been a huge challenge."
He also acknowledged the effect that scaremongering around the pandemic is having on children.
"When this is your only media source then you won't get perspective. You also tend to think that everything is negative and this elevates your fears. Children are taking in all sorts of rumours who might not have the understanding or capacity to realise that this is all just garbage.
"Sometimes it can be an older sibling who introduces them to what's on social media. Parents often aren't aware of what their child is up to online. They could be playing games or talking to their friends but it's important to realise there is a reason why social media networks have age restrictions in place."