COVID-19: India should consider reopening schools in a 'staggered way', says Delhi AIIMS director

Nearly been a year since the COVID-19 outbreak, the schools too have remained shut due to the pandemic since then, however as cases are receeding, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) director, Dr Randeep Guleria has opined that the country should consider reopening schools in a "staggered way".

According to a India Today report, AIIMS Director Dr Randeep Guleria said, "I am a proponent of opening up schools in a staggered way, for districts that are seeing less virus circulation."

Classes/ lectures are being conducted online ever since the outbreak. While the central government did allow a phased reopening of schools last October, the decision was withdrawn soon after.

"Reopening of schools can be planned for places having positivity rates below 5 per cent," Dr Guleria said.

One of the member of India's Task Force on Covid-19 however said that schools can be immediately shut if surveillance hints at the spread of infection. But districts should explore the option of bringing children to schools on alternate days and plan other ways of staggered reopening, he added.

He further explained saying, "The reason is not just a normal life for our kids, but also the importance of schooling in the overall development of a child should be looked at."

Dr Guleria also highlighted why children who have been deprived of online education should be sent to school now. He quoted UNICEF to say, "Covid-19 has reaffirmed the need to bridge the gaps in Internet access. The digital divide exists across borders, fields, and generations, impacting virtually every aspect of life."

On scientific grounds, he also said that children have had a good deal of exposure to the virus in India and that many of them have developed natural immunity. Notably, a collective survey by AIIMS and the WHO had found that SARS-CoV-2 sero-positivity rate among children was high and comparable to the adult population. Hence, it is unlikely that any future third wave of the prevailing Covid-19 variant would disproportionately affect children aged two years or older.

Speaking about the vaccination for children he said, vaccines would be made available in India by September of this year. Preliminary data from Covaxin's clinical trials for children is encouraging, he added.

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