KARACHI: A group of senior infectious diseases experts at a press conference held at the Karachi Press Club on Thursday supported the government decision to reopen schools in phases from Sept 15, nearly six months after the coronavirus pandemic forced the government to close down all educational institutions in the country. However, they called upon the government and school administrations to ensure maximum compliance with preventive measures and the official standard operating procedures (SOPs).
They also urged parents to make their children understand the importance of SOPs and help them follow preventive guidelines against the disease.
The event was organised by the Medical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases Society of Pakistan (MMIDSP).
According to experts, who represented major tertiary care hospitals of the city, initially when the Covid-19 pandemic broke out, sufficient data was not available about the disease, modes of its transmission, risk factors and vulnerability of patients.
“Gradually, as studies came out, we came to know that the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions and low immunity levels are very vulnerable to the disease and that school-aged children are at low risk and they are unlikely to be major drivers of the spread of the disease,” said Dr Azizullah of Dr Ruth Pfau Civil Hospital Karachi.
‘It’s time children were allowed to resume school life in a protective environment’
This was because of their lower susceptibility to Covid-19 compared to adults, he added.
Sharing some global data, he said children accounted for one to seven per cent of Covid-19 cases, far less needed hospitalisation and there were less than 0.1 per cent of Covid-19 related deaths among children.
Dr Bushra Jamil heading MMIDSP spoke about the role of school administrations and parents and said each educational institution had to devise its own strategy considering its resources and staff strength to minimise risk of disease transmission.
“Ensuring hand hygiene, physical distancing for all and use of masks in children over 12 years of age (as currently recommended by WHO) for all teachers and staff, good ventilation and early diagnosis of affected staff and students through simple screening can help keep our educational institutions open and functional,” she noted.
Dr Jamil also underscored the need for close engagement between parents and school administrations and building up staff capacity.
“Schools can also think of opening phase-wise and starting open-air classes as done by some institutions in other countries. The preventive measures will have to be reviewed periodically, as new data becomes available.”
Dr Sadia Aamir of Liaquat National Hospital pointed out that while all hospitals had dedicated wards for Covid-19 paediatric patients, hardly any child was admitted there since the disease outbreak.
She also tried to allay fears related to rise in infection once schools are open and said that children were already out in the malls, restaurants and parks, with their families, where SOPs were not being implemented.
“The chances for them to contract the disease from the community are greater than in the school environment,” she said, emphasising that it’s time that children were allowed to resume their school life in a protective environment.
Dr Asma Nasim of Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplantation shared that children affected by coronavirus reported with mild disease at the facility and none of them, especially those with renal failure, required admission to the intensive care unit.
Dr Shobha Luxmi of Dow University of Health Sciences said the hospital had admitted children born to mothers infected with Covid-19. But, these children had no symptoms of the disease.
Published in Dawn, September 11th, 2020