Madhyapur Thimi Municipality to reopen schools only after ChhathHealth experts have advised against reopening schools as Covid-19 situation has not improved.
At a time when Kathmandu and Lalitpur metropolitan cities are being criticised for ignoring health experts’ advice against reopening schools amid the Covid-19 pandemic, neighbouring Madhyapur-Thimi Municipality has decided to resume its schools only after the Chhath festival, which falls in mid-November.
Despite concerns by experts and children’s parents, the Lalitpur Metropolitan City has reopened its schools from last week while the Kathmandu Metropolitan City is consulting stakeholders to resume schools from this week. Many schools in Kathmandu have already started operating physical classes.
“We have directed all educational institutions within our jurisdiction not to run physical classes until the Chhath festival,” said Madan Sundar Shrestha, mayor of Madhyapur Thimi Municipality.
“We still have 4-6 persons below 18 years who are infected with Covid-19. Opening schools is still risky,” said Shrestha.
Madhyapur Thimi Municipality has been conducting polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests at Nepal Korea Friendship Hospital. According to the municipal records, 18 to 22 people are testing positive for Covid-19 every day and the municipality currently has 350 active cases.
“In our meeting last week, I had informed private school operators’ organisations—PABSON and N-PABSON—that we are not going to run physical classes, as the Covid-19 situation has not improved satisfactorily,” said Shrestha.
The Guardians Federation Nepal and public health experts have welcomed the municipality’s decision.
“All local bodies with high population density should learn from Madhyapur-Thimi Municipality,” said Suprabhat Bhandari, chairperson of the federation. “Sunday’s data show that 65 Covid-19 cases were detected among those aged 11 to 20 years. With the infection still active, schools should not be opened at least until the festive season is over,” said Bhandari.
Madhyapur Thimi Municipality has 70 educational institutions—18 community schools and 52 private schools—with over 3,500 students.
Mayor Shrestha said with the Dashain festival just three weeks away, it would be wise not to reopen schools.
Meanwhile, Bhaktapur Metropolitan City has yet to decide when to reopen its schools.
“We are still in a wait-and-see mode,” said Bhaktapur Mayor Sunil Prajapati. “We are under pressure to reopen schools, so we are assessing the risks.”
Kathmandu Metropolitan City is set to hold a meeting with stakeholders on Tuesday to decide whether to reopen schools.
“The meeting will decide whether physical classes can be conducted,” said Ram Prasad Subedi, the chief of Kathmandu Metropolitan City’s Education Department.
Kathmandu Metropolitan City still falls in the high risk zone in terms of coronavirus transmission.
The City had 2,465 active cases as of Sunday. Till now, the City has recorded a total of 80,716 Covid-19 infections and 536 fatalities.
Public health experts have been saying that Kathmandu Metropolitan City should take an extra precaution and have suggested that schools should open after the festive season is over and more people have been vaccinated against Covid-19.
Records at the Ministry of Health and Population show a total of 55,07380 people across the country have been fully vaccinated as of Friday. Similarly, 6,083,124 have received their first dose of Covid-19 vaccines.
“More vaccines are coming and we will have more people vaccinated by the end of the festive season. So we should not rush to reopen schools now,” said Dr Sher Bahadur Pun, chief of the Clinical Research Unit at Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital, Teku.
He said, the Covid-19 infection rate is still above 10 percent. On Monday the country reported 1,075 new cases with eight fatalities. Kathmandu Valley recorded 396 new infections in the past 24 hours. Of these, 298 cases were confirmed in Kathmandu, 35 in Lalitpur and 63 in Bhaktapur.
Earlier in the first week of September when the Kathmandu Metropolitan City’s Education Department announced its plan to allow schools to reopen, it had drawn widespread criticism. The City then backtracked on the decision.
The department’s chief, Subedi, had told the Post last week that the City has been under pressure from private school operators’ organisations and even some parents from public schools to reopen schools.
The City has a total of 731 educational institutions with over 365,000 students.
“Kathmandu is a very sensitive zone, it is okay to open physical classrooms in remote areas. But the local governments in Kathmandu Valley should be very cautious about reopening schools,” said Bhandari, the chairperson of Guardians Federation Nepal.
Schools and colleges across the country were closed on March 18 last year due to the pandemic. Some of the schools reopened from the third week of January this year, only to be closed again after three months when the second wave of Covid-19 hit the country.
Gobinda Prasad Rijal, chief district officer of Kathmandu, said his office has not given permission to reopen schools.
“I guess, very few schools in Kathmandu have resumed physical classes, but it is the responsibility of the local bodies to assess the school infrastructures and Covid-19 vulnerability before deciding about reopening schools under their jurisdictions,” said Rijal.