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Looming Threat

The Delhi government has issued an advisory to schools as Covid slowly rises. This includes precautionary measures such as masking, sanitisation, distancing and spreading awareness.

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As Covid rise slowly in the Capital, the Delhi’s Directorate of Education (DoE) on April 14 issued an advisory asking schools to temporarily shut down a section or the whole premises if a student or staff tests positive. The advisory directed managers and heads of private schools to take all precautionary measures such as masking, sanitisation, distancing and spreading awareness in the light of the increased positivity rate. The advisory also called for washing hands regularly, using sanitisers and creating awareness about the prevention of Covid-19 among students, teachers and other supporting staff and parents.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia have asked residents not to panic as there has not been a rise in hospitalisation. They have said that the government is closely monitoring the situation.

Classes 9-12 had reopened in a hybrid mode on February 7, while nursery to Class 8 reopened on February 14 in the national capital. However, schools began to function fully offline from April 1. DoE said on March 1 that the consent of parents would not be mandatory for offline classes or exams for students of Classes 10 and 12, adding that schools can conduct offline classes and exams for Classes 10 and 12.

Schools in the national capital are running in offline mode. As a result, several schools have been reporting positive Covid cases. Schools in Noida have already received an advisory from the health department in Gautam Buddh Nagar as many students tested positive for Covid. Daily Covid cases and positivity rate in Delhi have seen an upward trend in the last few days.

The Delhi government on April 15 said precautionary doses of coronavirus vaccines will soon be provided free of cost to people at its hospitals. India rolled out a precautionary dose of Covid-19 vaccines for all people aged above 18 years at private centres from April 17. Those who have completed nine months after the second shot are eligible for it.

Meanwhile, the Delhi High Court on March 29 dismissed a PIL seeking direction to the state government to recall the decision on full physical re-opening of schools with effect from April 1 till such time that school-going children are vaccinated completely. A bench comprising Acting Chief Justice Vipin Sanghi and Justice Navin Chawla observed that the PIL cannot be entertained without any expert opinion, based only on the apprehensions of the petitioner.

A balance has to be struck. Children are losing more by not attending school, noted the bench. There is nothing to show in the petition that the Right to Life of children would be endangered as there was no data to show that children are at a high risk, it added. The Court mentioned studies which showed the psychological impact on children due to their absence from schools. It said children have not been able to develop social, behavioural and interpersonal skills. Stating that there was no data to show that children were at high risk of either contracting Covid or endangering their Right to Life, the High Court dismissed the PIL.

The petition had contended that permitting physical classes for school-going children without vaccination would lead to the spread of Covid-19 among them. It said children below 14 years cannot be compelled to attend school physically as they had not been vaccinated against the virus. Stating that Right to Life was very important, the petitioner demanded that the consent of parents should be made compulsory for restarting physical classes.

Recently, three schools in UP’s Noida and Ghaziabad were closed after students and teachers tested positive. Three students enrolled at two private schools in Ghaziabad tested positive for coronavirus, while 16 cases—including three teachers—were reported from the school in Noida. The school authorities have also asked parents to monitor the health of children and inform officials in case of symptoms. The incident raised concerns among parents and residents. It is apt to mention that India has seen a sharp reduction in cases as compared to other countries.

Classes 1 to 5 remained closed for about 505 days, including 351 days in the 2020-21 session and 154 days in 2021-22. For Classes 6 to 8, school remained closed for 478 days: 332 days of 2020-21 and 146 days in 2021-22. For classes 9 to 12, there was no school for 351 days with 213 days of 2020 and 138 days of 2021.

On April 11, the Health Ministry announced that the number of active cases in the country has declined to 11,058. It also stated that the active cases account for 0.03% of the total caseload, while the national recovery rate remained at 98.76%.

Since the outbreak of Covid two years ago, education systems globally have been affected. It has increased inequalities and exacerbated a pre-existing education crisis. School closures have ranged from no closures in a handful of countries to up to more than a full school year of it. Lack of connectivity and devices excluded at least one third of students from pursuing learning remotely.

Schools are open in a majority of countries, supported by health and safety protocols and vaccination programmes. According to new data released by UNESCO, schools are currently open in most countries of the world (135). In a small number of countries (25), schooling has been temporarily suspended by extending the end-of-year break. But the costs are immense in terms of learning losses, health and well-being and drop-out.

School closures have devastating consequences for children’s learning and wellbeing. The most vulnerable children and those unable to access remote learning are at an increased risk of never returning to the classroom, and even being forced into child marriage or child labour, said UNESCO.

As the danger of new variants continues to loom, few things can be done to keep children away from Covid. Parents should educate their children as much as possible about its dangers so that children can take responsibility for their own hygiene and be alert about social distancing or physical distancing. Children should be sent to school with a mask that properly covers the nose and the mouth and should carry an extra face mask, hand sanitiser and wet tissue.

—By Shivam Sharma and India Legal Bureau

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