NEW DELHI: With many states ending Covid restrictions and some even lifting the mask mandate, Director of National Institute of Virology Dr Priya Abraham said COVID-19 vaccination can be considered for children below the age of 12 years who are at high risk.
Abraham said children mostly have mild Covid infection but those who are at high risk and have comorbidities can experience complications.
However, the proportion of such children is very less, she said.
"Going by that, in my opinion, children below the age of 12 years who are at high risk -- as in those who are on dialysis, have immunosuppression and also are suffering from cancer, among others -- need to be vaccinated," Abraham told PTI.
On some states making the wearing of masks voluntary, she said right now, infections are low in the country.
"But I don't think it is time that we completely throw our precautions away. I believe that we must wear a mask in any crowded place where we are sitting fairly close to each other or in a poorly ventilated space. A mask definitely has a role in curtailing transmission," she said.
On how important masks are for children going to school, she said, "Going around with masks is a bit inconvenient and children are not used to wearing masks. So parents will ask why use masks."
"But I am a little conservative. Children do pick up infection but most often they are asymptomatic. But if a child catches infection it can get transmitted to an unvaccinated family member or a sick elderly person with comorbidities."
On the need for booster doses for those aged below 60 years, Dr Abraham said there is a role for precaution doses which is why such doses are being given to those aged 60 years and above.
"Eventually, the age band will be expanded and those below 60 years will also get the booster dose. They are, however, a low-priority population compared to the elderly and those with comorbidities. As the vaccination drive opens up, those below 60 will also get the booster dose."
"Giving a booster dose after a certain gap following primary vaccination definitely increases the immune response," she said.
Asked whether transmission of COVID-19 from humans to animals is of concern, Abraham said, "We have to be cautious when we handle animals, especially those which don't mingle with humans."
"We don't know which animal species would be conducive to picking up the infection. We have to bear in mind that infection can transmit from us to animals which is called reverse zoonosis and come back to us as well."
"Our institute has not investigated any case of reverse zoonosis yet. We need to bear it in mind, be aware and be ready to investigate if there is any suspected case. I won't like to put it down as a challenge but a plausibility," the director of National Institute of Virology added.
Parents getting their children into school buses after ensuring that they carried sanitiser bottles were seen across Delhi-NCR as schools decked up to receive students with the resumption of offline classes from Friday after over two years.
While many schools reopened on Friday, several others plan to resume offline classes for all grades from Monday.
Sudha Acharya, the chairperson of the National Progressive Schools' Conference (NPSC), which has over 120 private schools as its members, said the students were eagerly waiting for this day.
"It is after two years that schools are re-reopening and students were excited to get back," she said.
Acharya is the principal of ITL Public School, Dwarka.
At her school, teachers conducted a special prayer assembly for students.
"Teachers had prepared special performances for students and it's like a festival today. Yesterday, we held a farewell for Class 12 students. At 11 am, we will tune in for the prime minister's Pariksha Pe Charcha," she said.
Modern Public School, Shalimar Bagh, reopened for only pre-nursery class on Friday while students of all other classes will be called from Monday.
"Today only pre-nursery students came to school to attend offline classes. From Monday, we will open for all students from pre-nursery to class 12. We want to make the process of reopening as comfortable as possible for students, parents and teachers."
"In these two years, a lot has changed and we are accommodating these changes. We are prepared for resuming classes in these 'new normal' times while also prioritising face to face learning as students have missed on that the most," school principal Alka Kapur said.
According to Nidhi Bansal, Pro-Vice Chairperson, Pacific World School, steps to maintain proper cleanliness and hygiene have been taken.
"Our focus is to make children comfortable and get them to talk about their problems and emotional or mental quagmires that the pandemic had on children and resolve them in the best way possible," she said.
Schools across the country were closed in 2020 ahead of a nationwide lockdown in March to contain the spread of COVID-19.
Schools in several states reopened briefly before the second wave in April 2021 but had to shut down soon after.
Schools reopened again but had to be closed in Delhi because of alarming levels of pollution.
While they reopened in phases, the hybrid mode of classes -- online and offline -- became the popular approach and students were allowed to attend classes in schools only with their parent's consent.
Shubhi Soni, head of The Shri Ram Wonder Years, Rohini, said, "Our school is excited to welcome our bundles of joy to the premises as it opens for offline teaching from April 4. The school has been decorated colourfully to recharge the students with positive energy and embrace them in the brick and mortar scenario," she said.
"Regular temperature checks of children will also be done to minimize the risk of COVID-19. A full-time nurse has been trained and deputed to oversee compliance with all norms. We are reopening the school in a phased manner to slowly settle the children in a new environment.
"Starting with bonding time classes, children will be asked to come according to the slots for a short period to acquaint them with school surroundings, peers, and teachers," Soni said.
Anshu Mittal, the principal of MRG School, Rohini, said they are exhilarated to welcome our students back to offline classes after a gap of two years.
"Various welcoming activities have been arranged to make students and teachers feel comfortable at school."
"Ice-breaking exercises have been planned to build a cheerful bonhomie between students and teachers to eradicate the disconnection they faced during the pandemic period. Peer interactions will also be held to encourage student bonding and repartee," she said.
Parents, however, complained of transportation being an issue.
A parent of a class five student of Shri Ram Global School in Noida Extension said the first day was slightly chaotic, especially for the parents as some school buses were running late and they received multiple messages about the delay.
"The bus was delayed by almost 30 minutes and I ended up getting late for work," she said.
She, however, welcomed the resumption of offline classes, saying it would be a welcome shift for the students.
"My son was earlier studying in Nagpur and today is his first day in his new school. He has been attending online classes in this school for the last one year."
"He will be meet his friends. Students had grown comfortable with the idea of online classes but this will be a good shift for them as they will get back to a proper routine," the parent said.
Union Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan on Friday said school bells have started ringing again, reflecting a move towards normalcy after prolonged closures due to COVID-19.
He was addressing students before Prime Minister Narendra Modi's interaction with them during 'Pariksha Pe Charcha'.
"School bells have started ringing again and we are moving towards normalcy," Pradhan said.
Schools across the country were closed in 2020 ahead of a nationwide lockdown in order to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Schools in several states reopened briefly before the devastating second wave in April, 2021.
While schools reopened in phases, hybrid mode of classes -- online and offline -- became the preferred approach and students were allowed to attend classes in schools only with their parents' consent.
From April, schools in majority states are going completely offline.
"Exams give stress to everyone. We all study but self-confidence is needed. 'Chalo Jeetein Hum' is a movie on YouTube, please watch it as it talks about our PM's student days," Pradhan said.
Prime Minister Modi on Friday asked students not to get stressed as they have successfully overcome exams earlier as well and urged parents and teachers not to impose their unfulfilled dreams and aspirations on children.
Interacting with students in the fifth edition of 'Pariksha Pe Charcha', Modi said technology is not a bane and should be used effectively as he took questions from them as well as teachers on several issues.