Last April, we began to see children admitted to hospital with a new inflammatory disease. Paediatric inflammatory multisystem syndrome temporally associated with Sars-CoV-2 infection (abbreviated to PIMS-TS in the UK or MISC-C in the US) can occur two to six weeks after an initial Covid-19 infection. Many of the children will have been asymptomatic, or have had very mild symptoms, and Covid swabs usually come back negative when they present with PIMS-TS. Antibody tests might show evidence of a recent Covid infection, but hospitals are not routinely testing for Covid antibodies. The symptoms were initially attributed to other inflammatory conditions. News began to come in from other parts of the world, however, confirming that what we were seeing was a novel illness. Cases have been rising again over the last two months.
‘Children are not the face of this pandemic,’ the UN said on 15 April, but ‘they risk being among its biggest victims.’ The policy brief predicted a sharp increase in child poverty globally; huge losses in child learning worldwide because of school closures and digital exclusion; risks to child safety from lockdown and ‘shelter in place’ measures; and threats to child health and survival from reduced household income, disrupted health services and the mental health toll of the pandemic. ‘Without urgent action,’ Unicef had warned earlier in April, ‘this health crisis risks becoming a child rights crisis.’
Nigel Farage claimed recently that ‘65 per cent of assessed “child refugees” coming to UK were actually adults’. According to Home Office figures, there were 2206 asylum applications from unaccompanied children last year. Immigration officers disputed the age of 712 of them; 634 disputes were resolved; 440 applicants were judged to be 18 or older, though that decision doesn’t necessarily mean that they ‘were actually adults’. In France last year, about 25,000 people applied for asylum as unaccompanied minors, up from around 4000 in 2010. I met Amadou – not his real name – at a Médecins Sans Frontières centre in Paris. He’d dreamed of making it to Paris to continue his education, learn French, become a bus driver. But the authorities didn’t believe he was 16 and wouldn’t offer him protection as a minor unless he could provide proof of his age.