Saturday, 4 December, 2021

How safe is it to reopen schools in capital?


By Ajita Rijal
Kathmandu, Dec. 18: All schools across the country remained closed since the beginning of nationwide lockdown announced by the government in late March, to stop the spread of coronavirus.
Re-opening schools in the time of global pandemic is risky, this is what the health experts have been repeatedly saying since then, fearing it can lead to rise in infections. Nine months later, some schools in the Kathmandu Valley have resumed in-person classes amidst the risk of COVID-19.
As schools resume classes in the capital valley, some parents are happy while others are worried.
Sangita Pant, a mother of a sixth-grader, was happy when her son went to school a week back. Pant was so frustrated when she watched her son struggle with distance learning. Like the sixth grader, most students of the Kathmandu Valley shifted to online learning this year when their schools closed to help control the spread of the coronavirus.
On the other hand, reopening schools is a source of anxiety for many parents. “I can’t compromise on the health of my daughters and my family,” said a mother of two, Sabina Barakoti. “I think I cannot send them to schools before the vaccine arrives,” Barakoti added.
Saroj Yadav, a father of an eighth-grader, said, “More than half of the course had already been completed through online classes; I think my son won’t return to school this year.”
“He is habituated to the distance learning and is used to learn with the new normal,” he said.
Pramod Pandey, Principal of Kathmandu Euro Kids of Tokha Municipality, said, “We have opened our school as a trial and in the first phase we are opening classes for grades 4, 5 and 6.”
“Opening school in the time of pandemic was not that easy but we have followed all the public health safety protocols,” said Pandey, adding, "We have taken all precautions and also trained our staffs and students to follow all safety protocols.”
Meanwhile, Prakash Adhikari, Mayor of Tokha Municipality, said that schools could open and run classes meeting the essential safety criteria issued by the Municipality. “First comes the children’s safety, so every school is obliged to follow the health protocols and guidelines,” said Adhikari and added that each school will resume the classes with the agreement between parents, school management and representatives of local level.
However, health experts have suggested that it is not a good idea to open schools in those districts which have more than 500 active cases. They are skeptical of opening schools in Kathmandu Valley, which still is a virus hotspot. 
Dr. Jageshwor Gautam, Spokesperson at the Ministry of Health and Population (MoHP), said that opening schools in the Kathmandu Valley would be unsafe although it may not be equally risky in other districts. “Though the infection is decreasing, we are not out of risk,” said Dr. Gautam.
According to MoHP, among the total infected people around 60 per cent are from three districts of the Kathmandu Valley.
According to health experts, severe illness from the virus among children and teens is rare, particularly in younger ones, but they can often spread the disease without showing any symptoms.
Dr. Rabindra Pandey, a public health expert, suggests continuing distance learning for at least another two months.
“As we are at risk of second wave of COVID-19 spread, schools must remain closed,” said Dr. Pandey and added that though children are not that affected by COVID-19, they may be the means of spreading the virus.
The main concern is the possibility of virus spread among hundreds of children at a time affecting more health-compromised and elderly people, Dr. Pandey added.
According to the official data of Ministry of Health and Population, more than 60 per cent of people who have died of COVID-19 are above 60 years of age.
According to health experts, schools must manage safety measures before opening them.
The schools must add school buses to minimise the crowd, add extra toilets and manage big canteens to maintain social distancing, said Dr. Pandey.
The schools must ensure the availability of soap and water for hand washing, masks, sanitizer and adequate space for social distancing, added Dr. Pandey.