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School reopening: Kerala to form panel, experts say children at low risk of Covid infection

The expert panel to be appointed by the state government will have health and education experts as members.

Published: 03rd September 2021 05:31 AM  |   Last Updated: 03rd September 2021 05:31 AM   |  A+A-

Express News Service

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Taking a cue from the suggestions that came up during the chief minister’s meeting with health experts on Wednesday, the state government has decided to appoint an expert panel to study the probability of school reopening. General Education Minister V Sivankutty said here on Thursday that a plan based on the expert panel’s suggestions will be submitted to the CM.

With other states opening the schools partially, demand has grown in Kerala too. CMC Vellore former professor (clinical virology) Dr T Jacob John, who attended the meeting convened by the CM, told TNIE that it was time to reopen schools in the state.

The expert panel to be appointed by the state government will have health and education experts as members. They will study the pattern followed by other states including Tamil Nadu and Karnataka to decide on the phased reopening of schools. The contentious issue on whether classes for primary school or secondary school need to start first will also be debated by the committee. 

“The expert panel will study and submit a report on whether circumstances in the state are conducive to reopen schools,’ Sivankutty told reporters here. The department will also come out with a report on the classes that can be reopened in a phased manner and the facilities to be set up for the safety of children.

The experts came to the conclusion after finding that children are at a low risk to Covid and that compromising offline education would adversely impact the future generation. At least 50 lakh children below the age of 20 have switched to online mode of learning since March last year.

Experts said there is no need to keep children away from school if the chances of getting infected are the same at home. “In fact, they have a lesser chance of infection in schools where Covid protocol is enforced. At home, they go around without wearing masks,” said Dr Jacob John. 

School reopening: Experts say many kids may have already been infected

Dr Sheeja Sugunan, superintendent of the Sree Avittam Thirunal Hospital that treats some of the complex diseases affecting children, cited the recent serosurvey by the Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) to dispel the myth that children would be safer against infection at home.

“If we look at the sero-prevalence, there is not much difference between children and the elderly. It means that many children may have already got infected,” she said.

According to Dr K P Aravindan, member of the expert committee on Covid management, Kerala should follow other states and prepare to reopen schools by October at least. Based on a higher level of immunity among the people, the government has been stressing more on the severity of infection rather than the total number of infections after the recent surge. Experts said the number of infections will remain with school reopening but will not create a worrisome situation if planned carefully.

“The positivity rate could increase with school opening. But we should also make preparations to deal with it. In other places, it resulted in problems for elders such as staff and family members. But we should ensure vaccination for all,” said professor of paediatrics at MES Medical College, Dr Purushothaman Kuzhikkathukandiyil.

While the reopening is likely to happen in a phased manner, health experts differ on which age-group should be given priority. According to Dr Jacob John, primary schools should be given priority as the students in smaller classes have the lowest risk of infection and are the most deserving to get education.

The ICMR also recommended the reopening of primary schools first. Dr Purushothaman said older students should be considered first, for they could follow the Covid protocol better. Besides, they faced the most mental pressure during school closure, he said.

POINTS TO NOTE
■ No need to keep children away from school if chances of getting infected are the same at home
■ If we look at sero prevalence, there is not much difference between children and the elderly



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