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Missing classes

by Vijay Garg
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One would have expected the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium (Insacog) or the National COVID Task Force or the entire body of epidemiologists and virologists to at least now come up with a view on the reopening of schools. Unfortunately, their view eludes us. Schools remained closed for all of 2020 and most of 2021. They began to reopen in several States at the end of the second wave but closed down again when Omicron surfaced. Scientists predict that the current wave is subsiding fast, but they do not want to tell us if it is okay for children to return to school. Restrictions are being lifted but no State Government is willing to bell the ‘school reopening’ cat. Is there something we do not know but ought to know? Or is it that nobody wants to take the risk because nobody can say with confidence that the reopening will increase, or not increase, the risk of infection? The children and their parents are owed an explanation. For over 600 days, students have missed school, been kept away from classroom studies and subjected to forced home isolation and, for no fault of theirs, they are becoming victims of mental distress. We hear the usual from the scientists that children have a strong immune system that prevents them from catching infection easily. On the contrary, months of sitting isolated at home without exercise or physical activity may have dented their immunity.
There is no data on how children faced infection and no surveys on whether strict precautions in schools can ward off infection till they are vaccinated. To a large extent, the hesitation of the Government in reopening schools is justified because children are the only segment of the population without a vaccine. Those over 15 are getting their first dose now. Vaccines for children above two years of age will have to wait for a while longer, probably till early summer when five vaccines will be available to them — Cadila Healthcare’s ZyCoV-D, Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin, the Serum Institute’s Covovax, Biological E’s RBD and Johnson & Johnson’s 26COV.2S vaccine. In the meanwhile, there should have been a national assessment of the fall in education reception, or knowledge absorption and in the standards among children, if any. The shortcomings of the online method of teaching are already in the public sphere. Students from poor families are suffering from not being able to afford digital devices or lacking electricity to run them. Parents are beginning to ask why education is not an “essential” service like economic activity is. They find it surprising that bars are the first to reopen, but not schools. They say it is naïve to suppose children are not exposed to the virus when adults in the family go out regularly for work. It is time for rationality, not emotions, to decide on the reopening of schools. There is no scientific reason to keep them closed, anyway


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Imphal Times is a daily English newspaper published in Imphal and is registered with Registrar of the Newspapers for India with Regd. No MANENG/2013/51092


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