Continuum of riskWe must strictly enforce Covid-19 safety protocols in schools.
Recent cases of coronavirus transmission among students and teachers have shown that schools could become coronavirus hotspots if prevention strategies continue to be overlooked. Some 23 students and a teacher at the Nepal Army-run Sainik Awasiya Mahavidyalaya, Bhaktapur have tested positive for the coronavirus, forcing the school to shut down from Monday. A few weeks earlier, as many as 40 students at an engineering college in Pokhara also tested positive. And these are just a few of the incidents reported from educational institutions as new infections steadily rise in the country.
As new infections surge in the country and more schools report cases among students and teachers, we have to be mindful that the virus could quickly spread at the community level. What’s more alarming is that officials at the Ministry of Health and Population suspect a new variant could be responsible for the surge, as spike proteins, a key biological characteristic of SARS-CoV-2 which enables the virus to penetrate host cells to cause infections, have been missing in swab samples of a lot of infected people.
But no matter the variant, science has long established that the coronavirus primarily spreads during close contact through respiratory droplets. However, the virus can also spread via airborne transmission and contaminated surfaces. These shape the rationale behind the precaution protocols that are now a part of our lives—wearing masks and maintaining physical distance, washing hands and disinfecting surfaces, and ensuring proper ventilation. The government and school administration must understand that we cannot at any cost ignore these prerequisites to operate schools safely because any non-compliance with the prevention strategies can potentially wreak havoc on our communities.
Following the government decision to resume in-person classes in December last year, schools across the country resumed their operations after months of closure, but there is no monitoring if precaution protocols are being implemented as claimed by schools and local governments. Students and teachers congregate in classrooms for prolonged periods which are usually crowded and not ventilated properly. During recess, it is also likely that students will let their guard down as they intermingle in the playground and canteen. This poses great risks for children with underlying conditions, teachers and staff and family members back home because although children are considered to be at relatively low risk of developing a severe form of infection, they could easily pass on the virus to other children and adults.
Last week, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology issued a notice asking all educational institutions to follow safety protocols and asked schools and colleges not to organise gatherings and functions. School operators say such an advisory makes it impossible to conduct in-person classes. Keeping schools open for the psychological and physiological needs of children is important. Both the government and school administration must understand the precarious situation we are in right now as risks of transmission and a potential outbreak cannot be ruled out. Therefore, we must move ahead by strictly adhering to safety protocols in the day-to-day operations of schools to reduce the risk of in-school spread of the coronavirus.
A year into the pandemic, it is more important than ever to implement proven prevention strategies to reduce new infections and fatalities in our community. This will require a collective effort as cases surge at home and in India.