Switzerland relaxes coronavirus guidelines allowing children and grandparents to hug


Despite social distancing measures across the globe that cautions people against close contact with others, including kissing, hugging, and shaking hands, Switzerland says children below ten years old and grandparents can hug, emphasizing that children are less likely to transmit the coronavirus.

Swiss authorities say it is safe for children under the age of ten to hug their grandparents, revising its official advice on the coronavirus disease (COVID-19). The country is now slowly lifting restrictions, with some businesses allowed to open and schools to resume in two weeks.

The country’s lockdown came after there was a sudden surge of infections over the past months. Now, the number of confirmed cases topped 29,500, with 1,737 deaths. Health officials say it is now safe to start reopening establishments, provided precautions are observed.

Image Credit: motioncenter / Shutterstock

Image Credit: motioncenter / Shutterstock

Only brief meetings

The coronavirus disease is dangerous to certain vulnerable groups, such as the elderly, those with underlying medical conditions, and those whose immune systems are weak. People with medical conditions like heart disease, lung disease, and cancer are more likely to experience severe disease.

In various studies on the coronavirus pandemic, children are less likely to suffer from severe COVID-19, but they can still contract the virus, causing mild to moderate illness.

The Swiss health ministry’s infectious diseases chief Dr. Daniel Koch said scientists suggested that young children did not transmit the virus, making it safe for them to visit their grandparents, who are vulnerable to COVID-19. However, the health experts said that the contact or meeting should be brief and would not involve babysitting. The children cannot stay with their grandparents for long periods.

Dr. Koch added that when the advice about keeping the distance between children and grandparents was formulated,  there was limited information and data on how the coronavirus was transmitted.

“Children are practically not infected and do not pass on the virus. And most children are infected by their parents. That is why small children pose no risk to high-risk patients or grandparents. So, it is legitimate that grandparents have physical contact with younger children. If the children get older, for example, from the age of 10, the risk increases, then this contact is no longer desirable,” Dr. Koch, head of the infectious diseases unit at the Federal Department of Public Health (FOPH), said.

He added that the recommendation of the country’s health department was based on consultations made with infectious disease experts and pediatricians from major universities in Bern, Zurich, and Geneva. Though the main goal is to protect older adults from the disease, it is not the children who bring danger, but their parents. Hence, they do not recommend that grandparents take care of the children, but short meetings may be allowed.

Note of caution

Now, a top World Health Organization (WHO) says that they are looking into whether grandparents can safely hug children without the risk of getting the deadly virus. Dr. Maria Van Kerkhobe, WHO’s emergency program technical head, made the statement after Switzerland’s recommendation on easing up lockdown measures, including allowing brief meetings between children and the elderly.

However, Germany’s chief virologist Christian Drosten said that there is still limited data to conclude that children could not transmit the virus. Various studies are focusing on children contracting the virus, but it is unclear if they can pass it onto others.

In the United Kingdom and many other European countries, the guideline remains that children should not have contact with their grandparents. The UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock says that though it is important for families to be together, it is more important that vulnerable people continue to be protected.

Globally, the coronavirus pandemic has now infected more than 3.25 million people, while the death toll has surpassed 233,000. The United States remains the country with the highest number of infections, with over one million confirmed cases. Spain, Italy, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany have reported high infection tolls, with 213,435, 205,463, 172,481, 167,299, and 163,009 confirmed cases, respectively.

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