Coronavirus: Should you let your children play with other children?

As more and more schools close around the world, parents are wrestling with what their children can and can't do. Should your child go out and play with friends? Or does social distancing mean an end to their playtime?

Is a game of tennis okay? A trip to the local playground? A playdate at a friend's house?

Dr Keri Althoff, a professor of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland, says social distancing requires everyone - children and adults - to stay six feet (two metres) apart at all times. That means no sports like basketball or football.

While there may be some low-contact games like tennis or hide and seek that children could play together, it's a tall order to ask young ones to self-regulate during vigorous playtime.

There is also evidence that the disease can live on surfaces for days, she says, so it is also best to avoid "high-touch surfaces", like playgrounds and sports equipment.

Although children usually only display mild or no symptoms of coronavirus, they can spread the virus to others.

That means that while your child and your child's friend may appear totally healthy, they could still pass the disease onto others in their community, including adults who may experience more serious symptoms.

"Parents have to take care of themselves right now too," Ms Althoff says.

Local governments need to be clearer about what social distancing really means, says Dr Katherine Semrau, an epidemiologist at AriadneLabs.

"What we do now impacts what we do in two, three, four weeks." she says.

Even if your community has not gone into lockdown, Ms Semrau says now is the time for people to take it upon themselves to "go to the minimum number of places for the minimum amount of time".

Ms Althoff says parents should anticipate more restrictions in the coming days, and make a plan with their children about how to handle it.

"What can be most distressing for families is when it feels like this happens all of a sudden. So parents, make a plan."

Both women say social-distancing doesn't mean anti-social, and stressed the importance of going outside and connecting with friends and family online.

How to practise social distancing and still have fun

  • Follow the guidance of your local health authority in terms of what kinds of activities are safe

  • Avoid playgrounds or other "high-touch" areas like toy stores or play areas

  • Go outside! Take nature walks and bike rides, and bring activities along that enrich the experience

  • Interact with friends and family over the internet. Let children use their imagination with one another by doing arts and crafts or playing pretend over video-chat

For instance, The National Trust will, where possible, open as many of its gardens and parks for free, but close its houses, cafes and shops to help the nation fight the spread of the coronavirus.