As States consider reopening schools, WHO top scientist's word of caution
New Delhi, Aug 11: With the decline in covid cases, several states are planning to reopen schools across the country. While long-term impact of school closure cannot be ignored, World Health Organisation (WHO) chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan suggested that school openings must be prioritised with strong covid appropriate behaviours.
Taking to Twitter, the top scientist posted, "the impact on children's mental, physical and cognitive wellbeing will last a long time. School openings must be prioritised with distancing, masking, avoiding indoor singing and gatherings, hand hygiene and vaccination of all adults."
The impact on children's mental, physical and cognitive wellbeing will last a long time. School openings must be prioritized with distancing, masking, avoiding indoor singing and gatherings, hand hygiene & vaccination of all adults @mhrdschools @DrYasminAHaque @NITIAayog @UNICEF https://t.co/vgWcTZ6Nnk— Soumya Swaminathan (@doctorsoumya) August 10, 2021
Meanwhile, the government has said that only eight states and Union Territories have either already done so, or are planning to in the days ahead, amid a possible third wave.
In a written reply to Lok Sabha, Union Minister of Education Dharmendra Pradhan, said Nagaland, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Haryana, Lakshadweep, Puducherry, and Himachal Pradesh have reopened schools as of 2 August. Andhra Pradesh is expected to reopen schools by 16 August.
Lakshwadeep and Puducherry have re-opened for all classes. The rest have only allowed lessons from Class 9 and above.
Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Ladakh, Goa, Gujarat, Jammu and Kashmir, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Meghalaya, Rajasthan, Sikkim, Tamil Nadu, Manipur, Mizoram, Odisha, Telangana, Tripura, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal are among the states and union territories that have not reopened schools as of 2 August.
The states are looking at Covid situation, the test positivity rate and number of hospitalisations before deciding on school reopening.
Why it is better to begin with primary schools
Last month, Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) chief Balram Bhargav had said "Once India starts reopening schools, it will be wise to begin with the primary section as children have a lower number of ace receptors to which virus attaches, making them much better at handling viral infections than adults."
He, however, stressed that for such a step to be considered, it must be ensured that school teachers and other support staff members are vaccinated.
Bhargava said children can handle viral infection much better than adults and it has also been established that they have a lower number of ace receptors to which virus attaches.
"In some countries, particularly the Scandinavian ones, they (authorities) did not shut down their primary schools during the first, second or third wave... whatever (Covid) waves they had, their primary schools were always open.
"So, once India starts considering opening schools, it will be wise to begin with the primary schools. Also, we have to ensure that all support staff members, be it school bus drivers or teachers, are vaccinated," Bhargava said.
Time to open up schools in a staggered way
AIIMS Chief Dr Randeep Guleria said that making COVID-19 vaccine available for children will pave the way for reopening of schools and resumption of outdoor activities for them.
The AIIMS chief acknowledged that while children mostly have mild infections of COVID-19 and some even are asymptomatic, they could be carriers of the virus.
Dr Guleria emphasised that there has been a major loss of studies in the last one-and-half years on account of the COVID-19 pandemic. "Schools have to be reopened and vaccination can play an important role in that".