Scientists, doctors urge setting up taskforce for school reopening in letters to three CMs
They pointed out that schools are open, either partially or fully, in nearly 170 countries across the world and added that a few countries, such as France and Sweden, did not close schools throughout.
NEW DELHI: Scientists from IIT Bombay and Delhi, along with about 50 doctors and public health specialists from across the country, have written to three Chief Ministers, urging them to urgently set up a task force that can help scientifically plan the reopening of schools in a phase-wise manner.
The experts said that the closure of schools over the last 16 months has resulted in major learning and development losses for crores of students, despite evidence indicating that reopening may be possible with safeguards in place.
This comes days after top government officials such as ICMR head Balram Bhargava and AIIMS, Delhi director Randeep Guleria, both the members of the national Covid19 task force, argued in favour of opening the schools in districts with low test positivity rates.
Small children are far less susceptible to severe Covid-19 disease, they had said, citing the scientific evidence available so far.
In India, schools have remained largely closed for the past 16 months due to the pandemic though there have been attempts by some states to open them for at least the secondary and senior secondary level students with certain precautions.
Recently too, states such as Bihar and Odisha apart from a few others have decided to open schools for students in the higher grade though in large parts physical classroom remain completely shut.
"The costs of school closures in terms of learning and development losses are mounting, while scientific evidence indicates that reopening with safeguards is possible," said the letter addressed to CMs of Delhi, Maharashtra and Karnataka.
The experts, doctors and scientists who wrote the letter pointed out that schools are open, either partially or fully, in nearly 170 countries across the world and added that a few countries, such as France and Sweden, did not close schools throughout the pandemic.
In July, UNICEF and UNESCO too had reiterated that schools should be the last to close and the first to open, citing that there is evidence that pre-primary and primary schools are at the lowest risk and should be prioritized before schools for older age groups.
The group underlined that vaccination of adults may take many more months as only about 13% of the eligible population is fully vaccinated in Delhi and around 7% of the eligible population is fully vaccinated in Maharashtra and Karnataka.
Vaccines for children are under development in India but countries such as the UK have decided against universal vaccination for young children and nowhere in the world are children under 12 being vaccinated at the moment.
Given the costs of prolonged school closure in India, vaccination of children cannot be a prerequisite for opening schools, it stressed highlighting that a ‘zero case’ scenario is unlikely.
Covid-19 is here to stay and the approach must now be to address risks with appropriate mitigating measures, said experts adding that schools cannot be opened overnight and this will require careful planning at all levels, particularly with regard to local conditions.
“In terms of the way forward, please consider setting up a task force with relevant experts on an urgent basis to plan for opening of schools in your state, partially now, and fully in the near future,” urged the letter.