According to specialists from India’s leading medical organization, the Indian Council of Medical Research, schools should be reopened in stages, starting with primary schools and then secondary schools. ICMR further suggested permitting schools to remain open, while ensuring safety with multi-layered COVID-19 mitigation measures.
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The UNESCO Research
Experts have highlighted a UNESCO research on the effects of closed schools on children in India, in an opinion piece published in the Indian Journal of Medical Research. The concerned research pointed out that closing schools for over 500 days in India had impacted over 320 million children.
The piece, titled “Reopening of Schools Amid COVID-19 Pandemic: A Perennial Dilemma”, also furnished evidence to support the reopening of schools. It indicated that returning to learning as it was in pre-COVID times is prudent in the Indian setting.
“However, it would be necessary to examine State-specific as well as district-specific data on earlier waves of infection and the status of adult vaccination coverage to project any plausible third wave and its potential intensity to inform such decisions,” Tanu Anand, Balram Bhargava, and Samiran Panda wrote in their report.
Expert Suggestions for Phased Re-Opening
The experts emphasized India’s already widening learning disparities. They also claimed a lack of scientific consensus on when schools should return to in-person learning. COVID-19 transmission is generally acknowledged to be an ‘over-dispersed’ phenomenon. As a result, testing procedures in schools could be important interventions in preventing the virus’s spread.
“It must also be recognized that SARS-CoV-2 infection testing procedures in schools should be used in conjunction with, not in place of, other organizational and behavioural treatments,” the paper cautioned.
Experts further called for frequent testing of school workers and kids in order to discover illnesses early and prevent outbreaks. They did emphasize, however, that systematic temperature or symptom screening in schools is not necessary.
ICMR also stressed that school instructors, workers, and anyone involved in child transportation should be vaccinated as soon as possible. They should continue to wear a mask even after obtaining the vaccines. According to specialists, the existing research suggests that children aged 12 and over are at a higher risk of developing an infection. As a result, they should be given priority for vaccination over younger children.
PM Modi at UN: Vaccine Updates for Children
PM Modi said at the UN that India has produced the world’s first DNA vaccination. This vaccine can be given to anyone over the age of 12. Last month, pharma regulator DCGA approved Zydus Cadila’s three-dose COVID-19 DNA vaccine. The consistent use of masks, sanitization, and handwashing are the cornerstones of COVID-19-appropriate behaviour, and both students and school staff must adhere to them.
Required Arrangements for Re-opening
Indoor spaces should be well aired, and air conditioners should be avoided in schools. To prevent the transmission of infection, exhaust fans should be put in classrooms. Children should also be discouraged from sharing meals or spending long periods of time in canteens or dining halls.
“COVID-19 has compelled us to research and find fresh learning approaches, particularly in nature’s lap,” the experts added, referring to Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore’s open-air classes at Santiniketan.
“In India, anecdotal data suggests a random increase in Covid cases in states that started reopening schools following the first wave”. According to them, all of this leads to an over-dispersed occurrence in COVID-19 transmission in varied situations.