Covid-19: What you need to know today
On Monday, schools in Australia’s New South Wales province officially reopened, signalling a “return to normal” that the country, which has seen around 7,100 coronavirus disease cases and 102 deaths, hopes to achieve in stages by July.
On Tuesday, two private schools in Sydney, the state’s biggest and most important city, closed after a student tested positive in each; both schools had already opened last week after the state decided it was alright to do so because the number of cases was declining. To be sure, the response to the schools having to close so soon after opening (and, hopefully, temporarily) has been just what it should be – even, non-hysterical, and pragmatic. The state’s education minister said school closures brought about by students testing positive were “something we are going to have to live with”, according to a report in The Guardian. Four other Australian states, including Queensland, have also resumed face-to-face schooling (as it is now called; another coinage necessitated by the pandemic). On Monday, news agency AP reported Queensland’s premier Annastacia Palaszczuk as saying that “we have to take each day as it comes”.
Somehow there’s nothing that quite signals a “return to normal” as well as children attending school does – as parents can vouch, it changes the entire rhythm of households in the morning (and not always for the better, but that’s another story).
Denmark reopened schools in April. Japan opened some in May, as did Korea. Even China reopened schools in Wuhan, where it all began, in May.
There are reports that India plans to reopen schools in July, at least for some classes. That’s the beginning of the term in some parts of the country (including Delhi). Schools reopen earlier in other parts of the country; in Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu, for instance, the school term starts in June, but given the disease burden in these states (Maharashtra has the highest and Tamil Nadu the second-highest number of Covid-19 cases in the country) that seems unlikely.
Still, open they will all have to at some time. Online education privileges the privileged and excludes others. Schools and classrooms try to provide as level a playing field as they can (many fail, and that, too, is another story). Sure, interventions are possible; the state can provide devices (tablets or laptop computers) but it cannot ensure that all students are in an environment that is conducive to learning. Schools, good old-fashioned brick-and-mortar schools, with face-to-face schooling, are still the best way to do that.
What does science say on pandemics and school closures?
A review of epidemiological studies published in BMJ suggests that closing schools does seem to reduce the transmission of influenza. While the coronavirus disease is not the flu, it can be safely assumed that school closure will reduce its transmission too. However, there’s still no authoritative research on the role of children as transmitters of the coronavirus disease. There are papers suggesting that they don’t get infected much; do not show symptoms even if they are; and are not as contagious as adults who are infected – but none of these are established facts as yet. These are important questions to answer – especially knowing that older people are more vulnerable to Covid-19, and that many children in India still continue to live in joint families, or in nuclear families with at least one parent of a parent being a member of the household.
And these are just some of the variables administrators and policymakers will have to factor in while taking a call on how and when schools should be reopened.
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- Among the key highlights, the budget is expected to have a special allocation for free Covid-19 vaccination at Delhi government hospitals.
- The Gender Budget Statement is proposed to be prepared in two parts. Part A- reflecting schemes that are 100% targeted towards women and girl beneficiaries; and Part B- reflecting Pro-women and girl schemes in which 30 to 99% allocations are towards women and girls.
- If the Supreme Court's five-judge bench accepts that the judgment in Indra Sawhney case should be modified, the case will have to be referred to an 11-judge bench.
- On Tuesday morning, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced ex-gratia of ₹2 lakh each from the Prime Minister's National Relief Fund for the next of kin of those killed in the fire.