COVID-19: India should exercise caution in reopening schools

Hyderabad: The Israeli government, which initially became a role model in tackling the COVID-19 crisis, reopened its schools after they assumed that the bad fight with pandemic was over. The imprudent decision proved their assumptions wrong when The Hebrew Gymnasium School, known to one of the biggest schools in Jerusalem, became a COVID-19 hotspot. 

Within a month, as many as 150 students and 25 teachers, along with those in their close contact, tested positive for COVID-19. The high school reported the first infection after days of re-opening, which quickly spread, and affected at least ten percent of the school.

Sporadic outbreaks in other schools in Jerusalem forced them to shut down. Hundreds of teachers and thousands of students were quarantined.

The US too, which reopened schools even as cases were on the exponential rise, reported 97,000 children were tested positive for COVID-19 in the last two weeks of July.

There seems no easy solution—risking the lives of the students by re-opening schools or risking their education and the country’s economy by allowing them to stay at home.

Lessons for India

A panel appointed by the University Grants Commission (UGC) recommended that the academic session in the universities and higher educational institutions can begin from September. So far, India registered a total of 22,68,675 COVID-19 cases with new 53,601 cases on Tuesday (August 11) alone. 

India needs to pick up the right cues from countries that tried to reopen the school while the pandemic is ongoing. As the Centre and the states mull over the reopening of schools considering the academic loss of the students, a careful decision must be made. If schools reopen too, the cases must not mushroom like what happened in Israel and the US.

Policymakers must cautiously evaluate the science of spread before they decide on whether to reopen schools or wait and even as they work on the standard operating procedures (SOPs) for schools after reopening. Until pharmaceutical interventions take concrete shape, it is only safe to stick to a combination of online/offline classes, with extremely strict preventive measures in place.

Meanwhile, the concerned authorities must also continuously pursue remote learning methods as future disruptions cannot be ruled out.