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Doctors, academicians call for immediate resumption of in-person classes in schools

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MHA cautions states ahead of festivals, asks them to ensure no large gathering

New Delhi: A group of 56 academicians, doctors and other professionals have written an open letter to chief ministers and union territory administrators requesting them to urgently consider reopening schools and resuming in-person classes.

In their letter which has also been marked to the Prime Minister’s Office, Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya, Union Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan and the National Disaster Management Authority Chairperson, the signatories said COVID-19 vaccination of children should not be a prerequisite for reopening schools.

“A number of governments have not yet reopened schools for all classes because of concerns including students are not vaccinated, schools appear to be ‘super-spreaders’, fear of a third wave and a rise in cases in areas where schools have been opened…. There is global evidence to support school opening and governments should urgently consider opening schools and resuming in-person classes,” the letter reads.

India is among only four to five countries across the world where schools have been closed for such a long time (one-and-half years), it said.

“There is an urgent need to bring children back to school. Since younger children are least at risk, we urge you to permit primary schools to open first, in line with ICMR (Indian Council of Medical Research) recommendations, and then higher classes. We look forward to leaders across political parties coming together for the sake of our children,” the letter stated.

The signatories said vaccination is not a prerequisite for reopening schools, stating the purpose of vaccination is to prevent severe illness and death and children are at relatively low risk of severe or fatal COVID-19.

“Therefore, the benefit of vaccinating children is limited, as they have a low rate of moderate to severe disease and mortality is already low,” the letter said.

The letter further highlighted the need for recognising the scale of costs of school closure. It said the issue of school reopening is played up as a “life vs education” issue which is a flawed perspective.

“It is well known that lack of education for students, particularly girls, affects the health and livelihood of the next generation too. These are extreme costs. Governments and task forces must strike a balance of risks, and such balance is overwhelmingly in favour of opening schools,” the letter said.

The signatories include epidemiologist Chandrakant Lahariya, Indian Association of Preventive and Social Medicine national president and Lancet Commission COVID-19 India Task Force member Suneela Garg, former president of the Indian Academy of Pediatrics Naveen Thacker, and Teach For India CEO Shaheen Mistri.

Meanwhile, ahead of the festival season, the Centre Saturday asked all states and union territories to ensure there is no large gathering and that they take pro-active measures to check the spread of coronavirus.

Extending the ongoing COVID-19 guidelines for one more month till September 30, Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla said the overall pandemic situation now appears to be largely stable at the national level, except for the localised spread observed in a few states.

The total number of active cases and high case positivity in some districts continue to remain a matter of concern, he told the chief secretaries of all states and UTs in identical letters.

According to the Union Health Ministry data updated at 8 am Saturday, 46,759 people tested positive for COVID-19 in the country in the previous 24 hours.

“The state governments and UT administrations concerned, having high positivity in their districts, should take pro-active containment measures so as to effectively arrest the spike in cases and to contain the spread of transmission.

“It is important to identify warning signs of potential surges early on and to take appropriate measures to curb the spread. This would require a localised approach, as has been mentioned in Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) advisories dated April 25 and June 28,” he said.

The home secretary further advised them to take suitable measures to avoid large gatherings during the coming festive season and, if required, impose local restrictions to prevent such gatherings.

A number of major festivals, including Diwali and Chhath, will be celebrated in the coming months.

Covid-appropriate behaviour should be strictly enforced at all crowded places, he said.

There is a need to continue focus on the five-fold strategy — test-track-treat-vaccination and adherence to COVID-appropriate behaviour — for an effective management of COVID-19, the home secretary added.

Adherence to Covid-appropriate behaviour is essential for tackling the pandemic on a sustained basis, he said, adding that weekly data from states and UTs regarding wearing of facemask, maintaining social distancing, imposition of fines etc indicates a downward trend in enforcement.

“States and UTs are requested to augment their enforcement efforts for effectively checking transmission of the disease,” he said.

Bhalla said the country has made significant progress in vaccination and state governments and UT administrations should continue their drive so as to inoculate maximum number of eligible people.

Further, the home secretary said, it must be ensured that areas having no virus or low transmission are adequately protected by progressively ramping up testing and other measures such as monitoring for ILI and SARI (Influenza-Like Illness and Severe Acute Respiratory Infection), and market surveillance.

“I would, therefore, urge you to issue strict directions to the district and all other local authorities concerned, to take necessary measures for management of COVID- 19. The officers concerned should be made personally responsible for any laxity in strict enforcement of COVID Appropriate Behaviour.

“I would also advise that orders issued by the respective state governments and UT administrations and district authorities in this regard should be widely disseminated to the public and to the field functionaries, for their proper implementation,” he said.

India’s infection tally rose to 3,26,49,947 Saturday as the number of active cases registered an increase for the fourth consecutive day, according to Union Health Ministry data.

The death toll has climbed to 4,37,370 with 509 more fatalities being recorded, according to the updated data.

The number of active cases has now increased to 3,59,775 which comprises 1.10 per cent of the total infections. The national COVID-19 recovery rate was recorded at 97.56 per cent, the health ministry said.

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