Hyderabad: The medical community is divided over the wisdom of holding pysical classes when the Covid-19 vaccination is not accessible to children.
While some doctors said that holding physical classes without vaccination is not advisable, others said that staying at home had made children addicted to gadgets, which was a major cause for concern. This is leading to cognitive behavioural issues with such children displaying irritation, anger and feelings of being useless with no-let up in the continued threat of Covid-19.
With many students getting fed up with online classes and losing interest in studies, some doctors suggest that a phased reopening of schools would help get a clearer understanding of the situation and help in dealing with the challenges associated with students staying at home for a year and a half.
Doctors say that a committee of school management, teachers, parents and non-government health organisations must be constituted to monitor safety protocols and carry out surveillance from time to time in each school.
They said that schools must be flexible and a sick child, teacher or staff member must be strictly told to not report to work as they could be a risk to others.
What the doctor ordered
Senior doctors provide several ideas to handle the restarting of physical classes
Dr T.P. Karthik, senior pediatrician:
Every parent is very worried as they do not know whether to send children to school or not. Pediatricians are being consulted every day. What assurance can we give parents, knowing that there are chances of the children getting infected? It is important to wait till the vaccine for children becomes available. It will be three months more. The focus of the government must be to get the children vaccinated. We have waited for 18 months. Can't we wait for three more months?
Dr C. Vijay Kumar, senior pulmnologist, Apollo Hospitals:
It is not wise to start offline classes. The suggestions from policy-makers do not take into account that there is zero vaccination in children below 18 years of age. Yes, mortality in children due to Covid-19 is less than 0.5 per cent but data of infected children in Brazil speaks otherwise. Assuming 10 per cent of children get affected, there will be 2.5 lakh cases. That is an overwhelming number. Until children are vaccinated it is not advisable to start physical classes.
Dr Madap Karuna, consultant pediatrician, CCMB dengue researcher:
We need to first reopen classes for senior students and evaluate the situation. Vaccinated people are also transmitting Covid-19 if the safety protocols are compromised or they have less antibodies. School time must not be for more than four hours. There must be no common recess, and no crowding near bathrooms. Staff must be trained in Covid appropriate behaviour and random tests must be performed. Till these are in place, younger kids must not be asked to come to school.
Dr Sanjiv Singh Yadav, national secretary IMA Academy of Medical Specialists:
Vaccination must be the priority for children. After that, distancing and Covid protocols must be strictly followed. TS is reporting few daily Covid-19 cases but if there is an increase the government must be quick in taking the decision to close schools. Psychological behaviour issues have been noted in children and that is the prime reason for opening schools but the Covid-19 risk cannot be undermined. Covid protection measures have to be put in place in schools.
Dr Pragya Rashmi, consultant psychologist
Children have been in a protected zone for 15 months and they have less than five days to go back to school. There are many schools which have scheduled exams in the next fortnight. On the one side confidence-building measures are being spoken about and on the other side exam-based assessment is thrust on them. It is important to think of the children. Many children are anxious and not able to give their best academically due to the pandemic.
Dr Lav Kumar Reddy, president Indian Medical Association Telangana Branch:
The resumption of physical classes has been recommended due to behavioural problems that were seen in children due to the continuous closure of schools. Addiction to gadgets is growing, and that is causing a lot of psychiatric problems. There are guidelines for safe functioning of educational institutions which insist on the schools and colleges following safety and sanitisation methods. Kids and adolescents are asymptomatic carriers and it is important that they be assessed from time to time.
Dr Daljeet Kaur, consultant psychiatrist:
This is not the right time to restart offline classes in colleges and schools. Government schools and even private institutions are struggling to understand how can they create pathways for following Covid-19 safety norms. Reopening schools for physical classes will compromise their safety. However, the challenges in online education are coming to the fore now, and that is a major cause for concern. But, until vaccination of children is carried out against Covid-19, reopening schools is not advisable just yet.
Dr Vijay Anand, senior pediatrician at Rainbow Children's Hospital:
Research shows that transmissibility of Covid-19 in children is less when compared to adults. Schools are functioning in Australia, New Zealand, Brazil and Argentina from where some lessons can be learnt. It is important that a pattern be set in schools and colleges: Different timings for classes; Schools to run for four hours; Transport must be provided, with teachers in buses; Symptom- and thermal screening mandatory; No crowding in corridors, and when reaching school and going back home.
Dr Naresh Vadlamani, senior consultant psychiatrist at Columbus Hospital: Children have been negatively affected because of the lack of social interaction that is a result of online classes. Many are losing concentration, interest and feeling emotionally deprived. This is affecting their overall personality development. Certain measures can be taken: For day schools.
Alternate classes with half strength for September; Option of online or offline classes. For residential schools: Children must report to hostels and there must be alternate day classes; Online classes option must be given.