States reopen schools amid concerns over COVID-19 third wave, vaccinations
Schools have largely remained shut since last March when the COVID-19 lockdown was declared. As the outbreak subsides, several states have resumed offline classes for students amid concerns that prolonged isolation can affect the physical and mental well-being of children. Separately, there is also the fear that a future third wave of infections could disproportionately hit children harder as they have not been vaccinated.
Several states have allowed schools to reopen for certain classes. Gujarat allowed schools to reopen on July 26, while Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh resumed classes in August's first week. In Uttarakhand, schools reopened on August 2. Jharkhand followed suit on August 9 and Bihar on August 16. Schools in Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Tripura, and Uttar Pradesh reopened on Wednesday.
The rules for each state vary. For instance, in Delhi, only Classes IX-XII are resuming offline school and the same is not mandatory. However, in neighboring Uttar Pradesh, schools reopened for Classes I-V on Wednesday. Schools in the state were already allowed physical classes for students in Classes VI-XII. Schools in Rajasthan are allowed to conduct in-person classes with 50% attendance for Classes IX-XII.
Notably, among some other states where physical classes have resumed, COVID-19 cases are on the rise. In Punjab, where schools have reopened for all classes, a massive surge in infections among children was observed. Infections among those aged under 17 years shot up by 9.6% in August compared to July. In Bihar, where schools reopened in mid-August, the figure jumped by 5.3%.
Reportedly, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, and Uttarakhand have also seen a spike in infections among children. However, the same is less severe compared to Punjab and Bihar. In Uttarakhand, for instance, a spike of 1.9% was recorded among children over the same period. Separately, in Jharkhand, infections dipped by 0.9% after the reopening of schools.
State governments have enforced several safety instructions for students and staff (both teaching and non-teaching) in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The guidelines vary for each state, but mainly, these include the use of face masks, hand sanitizers, hand wash, regular sanitization of classrooms and staff rooms, the maintenance of physical distancing, and the arrival of students and teachers in a staggered manner.
After the second wave hit in April-May, there were concerns that COVID-19 was affecting the younger population more. Experts argued that the younger population was simply more susceptible to the disease due to lesser prior infections and fewer vaccinations. Fears remain that a third wave—anticipated in September-October—could hit children harder, especially since only those aged over 18 years are currently allowed vaccinations.
The only vaccine approved for children in India is the plasmid DNA shot developed by Zydus Cadila. The three-dose vaccine has been approved for those aged 12 years and above. However, it is not expected to be rolled out before October. National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (NTAGI) chief Dr. NK Arora recently said the focus should be on vaccinating the families of children.